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9 juillet 2015 4 09 /07 /juillet /2015 21:42
Viva Espana or the Story of my first bounce dive

Barely a week after returning from my first offshore job, my boss Michel was already on the phone to tell me that I had to go back on JB4.

- What do you mean with I have to leave for the North Sea I told him, this is not what was agreed between us.

- You had told me that a month work equals two weeks on leave at home and today it's only a small week that I’m back, so sorry I do not move before a week.

Michel didn’t look too happy as he simply said ”well fuck it” then hanged up.

That’s it, it begins well I thought, I hope he will not punish me and leave me a few weeks at home. But there was no fear to have because in those days offshore was booming and demand for divers was such that companies did not hesitate to send anyone offshore as long as they had already put their head under water.

Result; a few days later in the morning of February 12, I again received a phone call from Fladas.

- Hi Francis, this is Michel.

- did you spend a good leave?

Then immediately he asked me if I had some English.

Ten years earlier during my military commitment I had been very fond of the little English girls who were coming in Ostend to have some fun and thanks to her had learned the rudiments of this beautiful language. But since then, the circumstances were that I had no more used it until the day where a few weeks earlier I had for the first time been approached by Fladas.

Since then I studied it again intensely and thanks to Assimil, I could say:

- Yes I do, I am defending myself, why?

- In this case, I have a project for you in Spain on a drillship where there is a team of French divers on board but none of them speak English properly and the client begins to be mad about it.

- So if you are interested you can leave tomorrow morning.

That’s so that the next day I found myself at the Barcelona Airport where I was assisted by a charming young girl who worked for the local representative of the client.

She was there to tell me that I had to pass the night in town and therefore led me to a nice little hotel located on the Rambla.

As one can imagine this didn’t bothered me at all and so in the evening I went looking for a little restaurant and quickly discovered that Barcelona was not a bad city.

Viva Espana or the Story of my first bounce dive

The next day, at nine in the morning, Dolores was there again with her car to bring me with a concert of honks on the horn to the port.

There the Smit Lloyd a Dutch tug was waiting the staff for the changeover of a part of the barge crew. The Captain of the vessel was also Dutch and as I perfectly mastered this language the contact was fairly easy and very quickly I was entitled to a special treatment during the two hours that lasted the travel.

Around thirteen hours, the GLOMAR V was in sight.

Viva Espana or the Story of my first bounce dive

It was a drillship with a large derrick at her center.

Once on board, I made acquaintance with the team that I had to strengthen.

There were, Raphael, the diving supervisor as well as Noel, Philippe and Serge the three young divers.

- Hi, the team leader said, it is true that you speak fluent English?

- UH yeah, my English is ok

- Phew! Happy that you’re here, we will finally be able to understand what they are asking us to do.

As I had not yet had dinner, the team invited me to follow them to the mess. In the queue as well as around the tables a lot of Drillers, Rough-Necks and American Roustabouts were speaking loudly.

Once served, I sat down at the table of my new colleagues and began to eat.

Yuck, what’s this strange taste?

Immediately, I seized my glass of artificial fruit juice and tried to rinse my mouth.

But, ugh, my drink had the same extremely unpleasant taste.

- What is this I asked wondering?

- That! Raphael replied smiling: its diesel.

- A few days ago these fools have done a big mistake during the refueling supply and have started to fill the water tanks with fuel oil.

- Once they realized their mistake, they have rinsed the tanks several times but nothing helped.

- Everything we swallow stinks to death.

- Even the water from the shower smell to fuel.

- In addition, you have no chance because here we cannot even have drinks in bottles; everything comes from the ship tanks.

Charming I thought, and say I'll have to undergo this for a month. Then Philippe one of the divers added:

- For the food, you can spice it abundantly, and for the water you add lots of sugar, you'll see that hides a little the bad taste.

I followed his advice but the result was not very convincing.

After this first shit meal, the team showed me where we had our quarters. There also, I was not lucky. The Americans had parked the divers into the bottom of the hold in a small cubbyhole near machines that never stopped turning.

There, in what they dared to call a cabin, they had installed four steel beds they had probably recovered in one or the other discharges. Frankly, apart from the team leader who was a little better installed than us, it was not really funny.

It was obvious that the Yankees did not like us.

In addition, this wasn’t going to improve with my arrival on board because unfortunately I wasn't the last one to do bullshit.

Indeed, the day after my arrival I had noticed that there was a toasting machine in the mess but unlike the classic machines that I knew, this was a rotating one which allowed to continuously roast a great number of bread slices.

To do this, it was enough to put the slice of bread on a vertical moving support where it was kept in place by a little clip. The slice then followed the convoy of the others, passed over the top of the machine and then stung at the back side where the electric grill stood, then, a few tens of seconds later reappeared on the front face where you could retrieve your bread well roasted.

For two or three minutes I study this machine and tell myself that thanks to her I’m going to make a tasty croquet-monsieur.

Neither one nor two, I am preparing my sandwich with a double slice of cheese and ham that I generously butter on both external sides, that I then gently place on the grill.

That’s it; my toast is gone and just passes on the invisible side of the toaster.

Already my mouth is watering at the thought of the feast that awaits me.

I wait.

Strange, the toast of the guy who was behind me just arrived and not mine. As it could not pass in front of mine, I tell myself that I've certainly miscounted.

However, I do feel quite uncomfortable. I have the impression that something has messed up in the maneuver as a strange burning smell as well as some smoke starts to come out of the toaster. Shit what can I do? By reflex, I pull the plug from the electrical outlet, but it's too late, the damage is done.

The machine has not supported the weight of my huge sandwich which has fallen from its support and is now stuck against the red-hot grill.

The smoke in the mess becomes more and more important and the few people who are eating start to yell at me.

It is now the turn of the Cook to come and see what can be done. Not much if it is dropping the blocked slices with a long kitchen utensil.

Bang! The door of the refectory opens with a loud crash and a quite strong guy enters in shouting. It’s the Tool Pusher. I realize that I’ll get canned and I try to get tiny.

The guy starts yelling at me in a jargon which I didn’t understood except the last words that were YOU STUPID FROGGIE, NEXT TIME YOU GO! AND NOW EVERYBODY OUT OF HERE! Needless to say that this incident did not improved the relations between France and America.

In regards to the job, as I said, we were here on a drilling ship and the beginning of my stay on board, nearly coincided with the drilling of a new hole and therefore I could follow the various phases of work that would gradually bring the drill bit to a possible pocket of gas or crude oil.

For the time being, the temporary base plate had been installed and a drill was underway to drive the 30-inch casing.

On a drilling vessel, all these works are done diverless and the role of the diving team merely consisted to wait for any incident to happen on the wellhead. However, over the following days, or rather the nights we were repeatedly waked up by the Tool Pusher who loved to send us make observation dives with the bell in order to verify the good implementation of the different elements. In principle, these dives were not really necessary because the wellhead was equipped with an underwater camera that allowed to continuously monitor the installation.

But okay, probably that the client wanted to get his money’s worth and thus wanted to see the divers in the water.

For me, apart from having to get up at 2 o’clock in the morning, I was pleased to do this kind of atmospheric diving because once at the bottom of the Mediterranean, I had the impression of being in the midst of an aquarium in which evolved a multitude of fish attracted to the spotlights of our bell.

Then finally some bad weather arrived and a few days later a first series of problems appeared on the wellhead.

Firstly, one of the four guide wires serving to align the equipment during their descent had broken. Secondly, the underwater camera guide wires were tangled around the blowout preventer stack. Thirdly a seal on the kill line was leaking.

Result, the Pusher Tool gave us a briefing on what he wanted us to do at the bottom and then asked us to dive as quickly as possible to get order in all this mess.

As I had never done this type of intervention, I insisted to make this dive.

Raphael agreed but immediately added:

- You can do the dive but please do not lose time because here we are not in saturation and every minute spent at the bottom will extend your decompression time.

- No problem, I'll try to do it as quick as I can.

Then after this short briefing, Philippe my bellman and me went to equip ourselves rapidly.

Our diving suits were old Dunlop rubber suits, identical to those that I had used in the navy.

Viva Espana or the Story of my first bounce dive

The suit entry had to be done by the neck, and then once fully dressed the seal was then made by a thin neck seal. As for the band mask it was the black MK1 equipped with a removable face glass, one of the first face masks manufactured by Comex.

Fifteen minutes later, we were both in the diving bell, ready to be send down.

- Ok guys are you ready?

- Ok surface it’s when you want.

Slowly, the winch begins to raise the bell for about half a meter which is enough to allow us to close the external bottom door. Then once this secured, the portico slowly resumes its failover and bring us over the water.

- Ok guys, Raphael said, I'm starting to bring you down, be sure to check the tightness of the door!

Viva Espana or the Story of my first bounce dive

After a few meters Philippe announces:

- It's good for the door.

While my colleague is monitoring the external pressure gauge, I’m watching through one of the portholes from where I can now perfectly distinguish the six steel cables that plunge to the bottom of the sea.

A few tens of seconds later, we have reached the depth of 80 meters. Philippe stops the descent. Water is really clear and we can perfectly see the wellhead that’s located at a dozen meters from the bell. Through the comm’s, Raphael asks me if I spotted the new cable that I have to change?

- Affirmative, I see it well; the end of the cable is about two meters above the guidepost.

- Good in this case, you can equip yourself, everything here on the surface is ready.

I test my eardrums one last time by a Valsalva maneuver to make sure that they pass easily and then let the bellman equip me with the little bailout bottle, lead belt, fins, gloves and finally the band mask without his front glass.

One thing worries me a bit, my diving suit has neither inflator nor relief valve and so I hope that the lead belt will have the proper weight.

- Don't worry about it, my teammate says, it is just what you need, neither too much nor too little. Here it is! I'm ready. As last recommendation the supervisor reminds me to put three fingers in one of my cuffs to avoid the squeezing of my suit, but also with my other hand begin to balance my ears at the start of pressurization.

- Ok bellman I’m ready, when you want!

- Ok let’s go, five, four, three, two, one, go.

Philippe opens the high pressure quarter turn valve fully.

Immediately the air begins to be replaced by a mixture of heliox 16/84. The noise in the diving bell is deafening.

I already feel the effects of the pressure on my eardrums and immediately begin to blow heavily into my nostrils.

Very quickly also, under the effect of pressurization, the temperature in the bell begins to climb. Gosh! I never get down as quickly. The compression speed must not be far from sixty meters per minute and I don’t stop to balance.

Suddenly, the bellman strikes me on the shoulder.

I lift my head and see that he shows me the inner pressure gauge that comes just to pass the seventy meters then the bottom door.

I have understood the door will soon open. I have interest to not stay on it, otherwise I risk to immediately fall into the water.

Eighty meters, the door falls open under the effect of the equilibration. Philippe immediately closes the HP valve and then asks me with a voice of Donald Duck if I am alright.

Due to the rapid compression, the inside temperature must now exceed the 50 °c. It’s so hot in here that I have the impression of being in a sauna and I’m completely drenched in sweat.

But nevertheless I find that my mind his still clear and therefore make him an OK hand sign while telling him that he can fix the glass of my mask.

- Surface, how do you read me?

- Loud and clear Francis.

- Ok, I'm ready to go.

- Perfect let’s start.

Slowly, I let myself slide through the hatch. Immediately, I am surprised by the low temperature of the water that gradually enters into my gloves and neoprene hood.

Carefully, I grab one of the bell guide cables and begin to descend towards the counterweight. Once on it, I check my buoyancy because I do not want to do a blowup to the surface as it happened to another diver some years earlier with unfortunately the consequences that can be guessed.

It's perfect; I'm slightly too heavy so no risk. Within a few seconds, I am at the level of the camera cables.

Because of the swell, they get stuck under the BOP but their release presents no difficulty and in a few minutes they are cleared.

I now swim to the guide post above which the cable that I need to reinstall swings.

First thing to do, open the small door which is located in the upper part of the column.

- Surface!

- I listen Francis.

- come down two meters at the cable so that I can retrieve the hammer and spanner that are fixed on it.

- Understood, we come down two meters.

Strange, it’s barely twenty minutes that I am in the water, but already the cold begins to be felt. This is of course due to the helium present in my breathing mixture which has a high thermal conductivity and therefore tends to cool me from the inside but also the from fact that I started my dive with sweat soaked under garments and this of course isn’t helping the situation.

Due to the cold I already have to concentrate on what I have to do. I attack the loosening of two screws.

Shit! Why have these cons on the surface tight them so strongly.

Bang! Bang! Finally after a few more sledgehammer beats, the bolts become looser and looser. In my earphones I can hear the supervisor that reminds me to take care to not lose them.

Viva Espana or the Story of my first bounce dive

Allright, the door is open and I can now go down to 86 meters, at the level of the base plate to pass the cable lug inside the guide post funnel, then while sliding the slack into the groove come back again to the top of the structure.

- Ok surface, the cable in position, I close the door.

My hands are shaking by the cold and my movements are becoming increasingly messy. I have to make several attempts to correctly adjust my Allen key. Still a few hammer beats on the key to tighten everything and I can announce:

- Surface, cable in position, door closed and tighten!

- Good Francis, take care we are going to set the cable under tension.

Hardly had Raphael said these words than suddenly the cable stretched violently and passed in front of me at lightning speed.

Shit! That was a close call. If I had been one foot more forward, for sure, I would have been cut in two.

- FUCK SURFACE! What is this for a lousy operation you have done?

- Euh! I believe that these fools have dropped the counterweight a little too fast, you have nothing?

- No I’m okay!

- Ok Francis, can you still go on the kill line and watch if you see a leak of oil at the level of the connection?

- Ok, I'll go. Give slack to the umbilical!

After a few tests on the line I can effectively confirm the leak but as I can do nothing to it the supervisor announces that my dive is over.

I don’t complain and I am eager to return to the bell to get warm.

As time continues to turn it is necessary to not lose time with my recovery. Therefore, the bellman has already filled the bottom of the bell with water to facilitate my entry.

Once inside, I makes myself quite small so that my colleague can immediately flush the water and close the internal door. Here it is, it's done. He announces:

- Surface, door closed I put a little pressure in the bell to have a seal.

No sooner said than done.

- Ok surface its tight; you can pick up the bell.

- All right guys we begin the ascent.

While the bell ascends to the surface, Philippe now hastens to remove my gear.

- So how was your dive?

- Good I said shivering, but I was really cold, nothing better than a hot water suit.

- Well that my friend I don’t think we are ready to have. We are here on a drilling support and as you’ve seen we have almost no material. A few months ago we have had the possibility to test a garment heated by electric resistances, but it was so under developed that the divers have had their balls burned up to the second degree.

Our little conversation was abruptly interrupted by the surface which announced that the bellman could start the decompression of the bell with the 87 meters decompression table and a bottom time of 80 minutes.

A quick glance at the table told us that we had some 12 hours of decompression. Apparently the bellman had a good experience with bounce diving as he immediately opened the bleed off valve that would allow us to go back in more or less three minutes to the depth of our first level which stood at 48 meters.

From there on, we had to put on the oral masks and breathe a mixture of 23/77.

The diving bell was now at the surface and ready to be connected to the decompression chamber. This maneuver was far from easy, because the hatch of the decompression chamber was on its upper part which meant that to position the clamp and tighten it; our outside colleagues had to lie down on their stomach.

This of course, was not the best of positions to give the vigorous sledgehammer beats that were needed for the proper closure of the clamp.

Jokingly, Philippe begged his colleagues to tight the clamp correctly because he said he didn’t want to be put in orbit after the pressure equalization.

Perhaps, did he had a premonition of what unfortunately was going to happen a few years later in Norway on the Byford Dolphin barge where 5 colleagues of the company lost their live instantly. Today, fortunately everything went well, the internal pressure of the bell and the access hatch were now equal to the pressure of the chamber and so we could finally make a TUP to pass into the DDC to complete the rest of our decompression more comfortably.

But despite this rudimentary comfort the decompression was not less stressful. This was of course due to the many breathing sequences of pure oxygen that at the end had a tendency to irritate our poor lungs.

Then finally some 12 hours later the door of the chamber opened.

The Tool Pusher was there at the entrance.

Shit! I thought what does he still wants?

But surprisingly the only words that came out of his big mouth were:

- Good work guys!

And then he immediately left for the drill floor.

Suddenly, he became a little nicer to me.

A few days later, it was the turn of our supply boat to have a problem and the captain asked us if we could come and do an inspection on one of its propellers. No problem and so an hour later the complete team was aboard the Smit Lloyd.

Under water, nothing serious, just a piece of polypropylene rope some 20 meters in length which was wrapped and jammed around the starboard propeller.

Viva Espana or the Story of my first bounce dive

The hacksaw made the job easily and after a few minutes the end of mooring rope was risen on board to the great satisfaction of the captain who thanked us by inviting us to eat on board.

The meal was nothing exceptional, but for the first time for several days, we could finally eat and drink without having the infect diesel after-taste that was still present on the boat.

During the remainder of my stay, I still had the opportunity to make three more bounce dives all so icy, punctuated by periods of standby during which in addition to the maintenance of the equipment, we took the opportunity to every time make new diving gases with the mixing installation that was inside our workshop container.

Finally on 13 March, the last day of my trip arrived and I took leave of my colleagues.

At the port, Dolores was there again waiting for me. Ah! It was good to see a pretty girl after having lived between guys for several weeks.

Once more she was there to drive me to the hotel because my flight to Brussels was scheduled for the next day which allowed me to again spend a nice evening in city

Viva Espana or the Story of my first bounce dive

Sometimes later while working on another project, I learned that a serious accident happened on my former drilling ship which had killed three of the colleagues I had worked with.

One day they had as usual prepared a new bank of heliox mixture but apparently during the night a valve had leaked and oxygen had spread into the container and had strongly increased the percentage of oxygen.

The next morning, when the team arrived, they opened the door of the container, entered in it, and then... turned on the light.

I hope that they have not suffered.

Papy One

Repost 0
19 mai 2015 2 19 /05 /mai /2015 09:57
I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

December 1974, already three years now that I worked as a diver for the small diving company from Antwerp (see: Stupid Diver). We were only five divers there, boss included plus two tenders, which meant many dives a week during which I have learned quite a lot of things.

In those days, there were very few companies specialized in this type of activity, and only two or three of them had a staff of employees divers, the company from Brussels where I had started my commercial diver’s career and the one where I worked today.

These two companies were specialized in civil engineering works and most Belgian divers were very well used to this type of work. However, since two to three years, offshore divers demand kept growing and many divers were leaving the Brussels firm to try this adventure.

This situation made my boss smile, because indirectly, this brought us back a few contracts that our competitor could no longer honor due to lack of staff.

On Tuesday, December 25, Christmas day, I received a phone call around three o'clock in the afternoon from a guy who presented himself as the Director of a recruitment company which was looking for experienced commercial divers for offshore projects, and that as such, he absolutely wanted to see me the same day.

Kindly, I replied that today was a holiday, but it didn't cure and wanted to see me immediately. As a result, an hour later I was in his office on the ninth floor of a building on the Louise Avenue. There I fell nose to nose with René, one of my colleagues who was actually also working for the same company as me.

A few minutes later the office door opened and a guy around the forty made us enter in his office. He introduced himself as being Michel G. Director of the FLADAS Company.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

After the usual banalities he entered immediately in the heart of the subject, and explained us that he had himself been diving for COMEX, but that he very quickly had discovered that the European offshore diving world sorely lacked experienced divers knowing how to work under water in difficult conditions. And thus he had made up his mind to rob maximum divers from the Belgian and French civil engineering diving companies, for which these working conditions were commonplace.

As a result in his quest for skilled workers he fell upon us through other co-workers.

During our interview, he explained us what offshore diving was.

Everything he told us about this job fascinated me because like many young diver, I was attracted by deep diving. On the other hand, what bothered me a bit in its description was the length of the projects which as Michel said was a month in the North Sea, and two months in the other parts of the world.

At the time I still was a relatively newlywed, and was therefore quite worried to leave my little young and pretty woman at the hands of all these males looking for a prey. Seeing my embarrassment, Michel trying to persuade me, started immediately on the financial aspect of this kind of work and asked me.

- How much do you win at the moment?

- So much! I replied.

He looked at me and said:

- Good for your first trip I offer so much, then a 50% increase over the three following jobs.

- Oops! I swallowed once because even for a first job the sum he proposed was more than threefold my current salary.

- In addition to this, he said you can still add saturation premiums plus some tax benefits if you spend more than six months of the year abroad.

- All this is obviously well tempting I told him, but I can't commit myself without first talking to my wife.

- No problem, do call me back in two hours, I’ll wait here.

Once home, the discussion was very lively. My wife knew I was attracted by this type of diving but she also was afraid that one sends me in Africa or elsewhere for two months and was afraid of not being able to withstand such a long absence.

- And one month I asked her?

- That, I should be able to support she said.

Ten minutes later, I had again Michel at the end of the line.

- Good I told him, I want to go for you, but only for periods not exceeding one month.

- Perfect, you'll turn in the North Sea, and then immediately added:

- Now you know what you have to do.

- Uh, what?

- Give your resignation and keep ready to go from January 5.

EH! Already, this left me less than ten days to prepare my mind and announce my decision to quit to my boss.

The next evening we just had our year-end meal in our little Chinese restaurant where all the staff of the company was happy to dine together once a year. That evening, everyone was seemingly happy and the atmosphere was warm. Only Rene and I were not really in the mood.

Of course, this was because we had decided to announce the news during the evening. The meal was excellent, and then came the time when our boss began his little speech to thank us for the quality of work we had provided during the year.

Now, he starts speaking of the future and begins to philosophize about the dedication of his men to be always available and to the great things that we will accomplish together next year.

Stealthily I give a glance at René. Here we go; it's time to tell him.

As René is more frank than me, he intervenes:

- Boss, I have something painful to announce.

Ouch! The head of the boss changes a little.

- Yes what is it René?

- Well, I have some bad news; I resigned because I go offshore.

Shit, the boss needs to sit. Big discussion between my colleague and him in an attempt to convince him to stay but nothing helped, René stayed on its decision.

Result, a few minutes later he is resigned to lose his best diver, but he immediately adds:

- OK my dear René, no problem it’s your choice and I can’t stop you but fortunately, I still have Francis who will now take your place.

Me, I knew no more where to put myself. And then shyly I said unto him:

- Boss, I too have bad news, I'm leaving with René and I too give my resignation.

That was too much, two back-to-back resignations, the party was fucked.

Over the next few days, I did some shopping because I was told that North Sea was very cold in the winter and so I needed some warm clothing.

Saturday 5 January eleven o'clock in the morning, the phone rings. At the other end of the line it’s my new boss Michel.

- Hi Francis, I call you to announce that you leave this afternoon, I have found you a job in the North Sea on the Jet barge 4.

- Be at the airport at three O’clock.

Shit, it let only four hours to spend with my family.

Fourteen hours, as my wife Michelle cannot yet drive, it’s my parents who take me to the airport. The small hall is crowded, but very quickly I spot Michel who is awaiting me anxiously.

- Hi! Here is your ticket to Aberdeen via London, quick go to register your luggage at counter n° 3. - UH! But it is that I have two large suitcases and one bag.

Michel looks at me in a dumbfounded manner:

- What do you all got in there?

- But Michel I was told that I had to equip myself against the cold.

- Quick! Open them we’ll make a selection.

Result, in the middle of the airport and under the anxious eyes of my family, my boss is throwing away all the cloves he judges unnecessary to take with me. Once this little technical detail set, I quickly went to register my luggage and finally was ready to move to the control desk.

So far, I had been so busy with my departure that I did not really realize what was happening but suddenly, seeing that the time of the separation had come, a ball of anxiety was felt at the back of my throat.

- It is time my loves, I must say goodbye.

Not easy all this, especially for my four-year-old kid who does not well understood why his dad is leaving him for so long.

Here I am on the plane to London. During my youth I had already done some flying in small aircraft, but had never taken a commercial plane and I must say that I enjoyed this first flight.

At the London terminal, I am a little bit confused. Knowing nothing about airports, I virtually stop at all the panels signaling messages to check if one of them does not apply to a flight towards Aberdeen.

Probably seeing that I was a little lost, a stewardess approached me and offered her help. Thus, thanks to her, I found myself quickly in the terminal where my next flight was due to leave.

Twenty hours fifteen, new departure for the Scottish city where I arrive an hour thirty later. For the umpteenth time I reread the roadmap that Michel had given me:

«At Aberdeen airport take a bus and go to the George Hotel on Union Street. ''

Take a bus alright, but which one amongst all those waiting on the parking? Nah, I will just ask a driver. As I had revised my English with the Assimil method during these last days, I proudly asked a first driver:

- Do you go center?

Nice, the guy seemed to have understood because he immediately replied:

- No, yourrrrr arrrrrrrre wrrrrrrong, you etc etc etc. In brief I could only hear a set of words only containing RRRRR consonants that I was not able to understand. Once again I asked him the same question with result the same incomprehensible response.

Odd I thought I've yet revised my English. In my opinion this must be an alien.

Unfortunately not, because apparently everyone here spoke this same strange language. Seeing that I did not understood, the driver showed me another bus telling me:

- Take that bus.

I followed his recommendation and an hour later I was at the front desk of the hotel. Apparently the room had been reserved because as soon as I gave my name, the receptionist handed me a key indicating that the room was on the 3rd floor plus a message telling me that someone would take contact with me during the morning.

Arrived at the door, I opened it, turned on the light and...

- Oh excuse me Sir.

There was a guy in the bed that turned himself grumbling. I quickly get back at the reception and told the lady that she had given me a wrong room because it was busy. Well no, the maid explained to me somehow that it was another diver and that we must share the room.

Result, back in the room, where I now try to carefully store my suitcase without disturbing my new colleague too much. In vain, because of all my racked he opened one eye, then the second.

- Sorry.

- OK No. problem!

- Hello, I'm Francis and I come from Brussels.

- Hi, I'm John and I'm from London.

Phew, John spoke English that I could more or less understand and thus I could undertake a small conversation with him to explain what I came do here. From what I could understand, he also had just arrived and was in bed early because someone would pick him up early the next day. Indeed, on the stroke of five o'clock in the morning, I heard John leave the room in silence.

10 o’clock in the morning, I receive a phone call from a guy speaking French, it’s Yves. He tells me that my departure to the barge is only planned for the next day and then I can have my day. Result, I undertake to do a walk in the city.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

But it's Sunday and Sunday’s in Aberdeen means that everything is closed, not a cat on the streets, a dead city and even to make the things worse, the weather is really bad.

- Damn, what am I doing here? I’m depressed and feeling blue thinking to the ones I have left behind me. So it’s better for me to return to the hotel, there at least it's warm.

Eighteen hours a new guy enters the room.

- Hello! I told him I thinking it was a new English diver. In response, I get a “Bonjour” with a strong accent coming from Marseille. It is Maurice, a French diver from Comex which tells me that he also goes on JB4. Suddenly my mood is much better.

Next morning after a hearty breakfast, departure by taxi to Peterhead, a small port located some 50 km north of Aberdeen where a supply boat awaits us together with a few other workers who have to go work at sea.

Mid-morning, the supply boat leaves its berth. It is barely out of the Harbor that it quickly starts to move in all directions by a severe gale.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

Me, it's been eight years now that I no longer had set foot on a ship, but very quickly, I could feel the symptoms that I feared: seasickness. We are barely at sea for less than half an hour that my breakfast is already coming out.

In the galley, despite the fact that it is virtually impossible to stand, the Cook is preparing lunch for the crew and the few guys who remained in the lazarette. For me, it is no question to swallow anything because the single smell of the frying food makes me run to the toilets.

Due to this bad weather, the Captain had banned the access to the outside to avoid falling overboard, result not question to go get some fresh air. The only thing to do was to go and lock at best in the bunk.

The next hours, were among the most difficult of my life. The storm had get worse and I needed to wedge myself very strongly to not be ejected from my bed. I didn’t stop to drink and to vomit, I felled so bad that wanted to die.

I told myself that if THAT was offshore, then they could get fucked because I would not spend a month being as seasick as a dog.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

The more the time passed and the more I was hamming it up telling myself that I would return ashore immediately.

Finally, after thirty six hours of an interminable trip during which the boat had supplied various oil platforms, Jet Barge 4 was in sight and the seaman on watch came to inform us that we had to prepare ourselves for the transfer.

As I was in agony, I told Maurice that I had decided to stay on board to return to Belgium and to never again in my life put my feet on a boat. Maurice replied with a smile that I would be wrong to do this, because on the barge it would move significantly less.

- I don't care, I don’t move from my bunk.

A ten minute later, the supply is alongside of the barge. To facilitate the transfer of the people, the boat is moored downwind thus reducing somewhat the pitching and rolling. Result, I decided anyway to get up to go and see to what this installation on which I would have to go looked like. What I saw there under my eyes, was a huge pontoon kept in position by a series of large cables that went to the bottom.

It was fully illuminated and a terrible noise came out of her. Yet, as my colleague had said, the barge didn’t seem to move so much. Maybe that after all it would be better to go there and so I immediately returned to the cabin to fetch my luggage.

Back on the afterdeck, I could see that the transfer had begun. The passage between the boat and the barge was made with a basket in which we had to throw our suitcases, and then somehow try to cling on his side and remain there until the moment that the crane operator estimates to be able to pick up the basket without too much risk.

It was now my turn to try my hand at this rodeo.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

Due to the not synchronized movements of the boat and barge, it was not easy to get in position. Sometimes I fell in the basket, and then a few moments later, I returned back and fell outside.

A veritable obstacle course. Then without expecting it, the basket lifted off from the deck and I found myself quickly to ten meters in height.

Once landed on board of the barge, it didn’t take me long to feel that actually she moved far less than this fucking tub and I felt immediately better.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

My mood also quickly returned when I saw Luc a colleague that I had already crossed on a project in Belgium. After rapid greetings, he told me that I looked like a death warmed up and had a complexion that looked pretty much like the green color of the barge.

No wonder I said with such an infernal trip I'd just suffered. Then after a few usual banalities, he grabbed my suitcase and led us Maurice and me to the stratif that had to register our arrival.

Once these formalities completed, he led us to our room to put our luggage, showed us the various locations of the barge that was important to identify immediately and then finally presented us to a few divers who were doing the night shift.

Me, it was now several tens of hours that I hadn’t swallowed anything and I suddenly felt hungry. Luc invited me to go to the mess where for the first time in my life I could taste some delicious pancakes with maple syrup. While I was eating, my buddy explained that because of the storm, the barge was in standby since several days and divers were free to do what they wanted.

Of course, very quickly I turned the chatting around life on board and the kind of work that was expecting me here.

- Bof, spirit here isn’t high because a few days ago we had a death and you are there to replace him.

Shit, it starts well my new work.

- Actually he said to continue, the barge on which we work is called a Jet barge.

- You should know that here in the North Sea as well as in many other parts of the world, nothing may exceed from the bottom of the sea and this means that all the pipelines that are currently posed must be buried before entering in production and this is where we come into action.

- As you can imagine, such kind of deep trenches are not dug with a Galeazzi water lance.

- Here on the barge we use a huge machine, you will see it tomorrow, which is pulled over the pipe.

- This engine is equipped at the front with a multitude of high pressure lances that disintegrate the soil during the progress, while at the rear of the machine; there is a huge pumping system that sends the sludge out of the trench.

- A few days ago, we did come at the end of a section where an 8 inch valve was installed and it was expected that the Yankees would stop the pulling of the jet at about five meters from this valve.

- Like usual we’ve started the inspection of the trench and the pipe.

- It was John our English diver who was in the water and everything was going well until the moment where he informed us that he passed to the other side of the tube.

- Then all of a sudden, we‘ve heard a horrible scream on the radio and then nothing, no sound of breathing, total silence.

- Immediately, the supervisor has sent the bellman to his rescue.

- The visibility was still extremely reduced and the bellman had the follow the diver’s umbilical to reach him.

- Once on him, he tried to take his colleague in his arms to bring him back to the bell, but the diver was stuck on the pipe and he couldn't remove him off.

- As time went on, the water has clear up and finally, the bellman was able to see that the diver’s arm was inside the tube.

- It’s there that one has understood that the claw had been pulled too far and thus snatched the small valve and a part of the pipeline on which it was welded.

- As the pipe was on air, the tearing off has create a strong delta P at the level of the opening and it's while passing over the pipe that the poor man had his arm sucked in.

- No need to say how difficult it was to take him away from there.

- As the bottom was only thirty-five meters deep, the recovery intervention has been made from the surface because the bellman was too shocked to continue.

- It took us not less than eight hours to free him and to be able to do it we were obliged to fill the pipe with water to get pressure equalization.

- When his arm was finally removed from the pipe, all that remained was the bone. All the rest from the shoulder to the hand had been sucked into the tube.

- It was not nice to see, so you understand why the guys on board feel a little depressed these last few days.

Obviously, there was something.

- And now, what will the next operation be, I asked him?

- For now we wait a lull because there still a dive to do on the pipe , then the barge will lift her anchors to go on another site where we have to dig a new 36 inches stretch of tube. Finally, after having chatted some 10 minutes more with my colleague, I left him and decided to go to bed for a few hours.

Despite the travel fatigue, I did not sleep much. It was probably due in part from the stress of this first mission, but also because of the infernal noise caused by the machinery of the barge that could be heard up to the inside of the cabins.

Result, I get up at the stroke of nine hours, dressed myself warmly and went out on the deck to look where I had landed.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

Outside, it was broad daylight. It was bitterly cold and the wind was still blowing very hard.

After having wandered everywhere to discover the various parts of this huge floating pontoon, I then walked to the back of the barge where the commanding and diving post was established.

Luc was still there and was busy to adjust the regulator a diving helmet.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

Another diver was putting a coat of paint to the ceiling of the room and two others had their nose stuck inside a playboy magazine.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

- Hi, slept well?

- Bof not too well, I find there is quite a lot of noise.

- Don’t worry, you‘ll be used to it quickly.

- Come on, I'll introduce you to the superintendent; he is precisely in the chamber operator’s room. I followed him. On our way we are walking through a room where I can see a huge orange decompression chamber.

- That’s our 2500 chamber he told me it’s in there that we make our saturations, we will show you the installation later.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

At the end of the local, a small staircase was climbing to the control room. There Yann the life support technician and Jacques the diving supt were busy to sum up the status of the diving gases.

- Hi, Francis, you’re the new one?

During our interview, he inquired a little about my diving experience, and then at the end he added:

- This afternoon, we will try a dive to sling the pipe, will you do it?

Of course, I was there to dive and thus accepted with enthusiasm.

- Well, it is foreseen around 2 o’clock the dive supervisor will tell you what there is to do.

- In the meantime you can already choose you a diving suit.

At shift change, I met the other members of the day’s dive team. Then the team leader which I forgot the name led me to the rear starboard side of the barge and began to brief me on my future dive.

- You see, here we have a downline that is still moored around the pipe at the level of the valve which has been teared off.

- So, you are going to follow it.

- Once on the bottom, you disconnect the line and you go to your left.

- Make sure that your umbilical is behind you; otherwise you'd go in the wrong direction.

- At approximately twenty meters from the valve you'll arrive at the end of the pipe on which there is a pulling head.

- There you fasten the guideline on the ring.

- After that we will send you a steel wire with a three pieces shackle.

- Once you have recovered it, do give enough slack to the cable to not be bothered by the swell, then you take away the axis of it and you put the shackle over the ring.

- After, you set the axis of the shackle in place, you tighten the nut very hard and you don't forget to put security pin in place.

- And please be careful to not lose the nut.

- Once this is done, you will have to pass on the equalization valve which is located on the other side of the pulling head and close it.

While he was describing what I would have to do, I thought that he was taking me for an idiot who had never slung anything in his life. But very quickly during my other offshore jobs I was going to realize that unlike civil engineering diving it was always like that in offshore: Divers can only take little initiative.

- Has you can see he continued; there is still too much swell to do the decompression stops in water so you'll do surface decompression.

- UH! What’s that I asked a little intrigued?

- It means that you will come up directly to the surface where we will rapidly take off your gear and then put you in the bin where you'll be recompressed to twelve meters while breathing pure oxygen.

- Be careful, because once you are out of the water, you will not have to hang around because you only have three minutes to return to the stop pressure.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

Shortly after, the time of intervention has come. Maurice is going to be my standby diver.

Dutifully, I dress myself with an Unisuit dry suit and then for the first time in my life put a face mask on the head.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

It’s an orange KMB 9 band mask equipped with communications with the surface.

This also changes me from my dives in the ports and channels where so far with the exception of some special works I only used traction signals to communicate.

Everything was ready. In the earphones I could hear the Chief tell me that I could go.

I went to the edge of the barge waited a few moments for the top of a wave and jumped.

Once in the water, I seized the down line and immediately began to heave myself towards the bottom. The band mask was equipped with a nose block device to facilitate the balancing of my ears but I didn't need it because since always I had learned to clear my ears swallowing.

The only thing I had to think about during the descent was to regularly send some air in my dry suit to prevent it to squeeze. In less than two minutes I was some thirty-five meters down.

There, the visibility was good and I could see that the down line was where the supervisor had said.

The dive took place without any difficulty, in accordance with the instructions I had received. Result, twenty minutes after my departure, I could announce:

- Surface work completed !

On the surface, the supervisor appears surprised because he asked me to confirm.

- Are you sure to have correctly put everything in place?

- Affirmative, everything is in place, tight and secured, and the valve is closed.

- Good in this case you can drop the guideline and come up slowly to the surface and be careful to not turn around the sling.

Slowly, I begin my ascent. Around twelve meters, the effects of swell can be felt strongly. The cable where I come up does not stop to tight and slack and when I look toward the surface, I can see the bottom of the diving ladder in the splash of the waves.

Fortunately I do not have to make my decompression in the water; otherwise I could again have the nausea.

I arrive at the bottom of the ladder which sometimes is at six meters, and then the next moment at three meters. I cling to the steps to remove my fins but it is really not easy.

Now, it's done. Immediately I climb on it to go up on deck. Once on it, three colleagues throw themselves upon me to remove my diving gear then promptly direct me to the DDC. Quickly, I settled down in the sas, seize the oxygen mask and begin to deeply breathe this pure gas that should prevent me to get bend.

A few seconds later the door of the chamber closes while that via the intercom the LST informs me that he will begin to pressurize. Immediately, the air starts to fuse in the sas and in less than a minute, the door of the main chamber opens by equilibration.

Whew !, my surface interval lasted less than three minutes. I am inside the procedure prescribed by the decompression table and can now enter into the chamber to lie down on the bunk while continuing to breathe O2. I am in for ten minutes.

Not bad at all this way of decompression I thought that allow me to decompressed in the dry and protected from the swell. But what I was unaware at the time, it is that this technique is not without risk for the diver because during the surface interval the tissues are in a state of supersaturation and the risk of a decompression accident is real.

Moreover it’s used to say that surface decompression procedures are semi-controlled decompression accidents which are treated immediately and even a study has proved that S.D tends to produce ten times more type II (neurological) DCS than in water decompression.

Beside at long term, this practice has also serious consequences on the health of divers who have during their career intensely done this type of decompression and many of them are today highly disabled or even invalid.

Fortunately, Comex is aware of these risks and practiced the surface decompression only in exceptional circumstances such as for instance today.

My dive had apparently met the requirements of the Supt because as soon as I stepped out of the chamber, he told me that I would be part of the next saturation which should take place in a few days if the weather calms down.

He then asked the dive supervisor to show me the complete deep diving installation during the next hours and brief me on the various ongoing work procedures for the setting of the jet and the inspections.

Super, my first project and I can already go into 'sat'. Other divers do not have this chance and many of them will sometimes have to wait long before living this experience.

As the work was entirely finished on this site two tugs had begun to recover the anchors.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

This maneuver lasted a dozen hours during which we could hear the haunting sound of the twelve winches that were returning the kilometers of cable. Once the last anchor on board, the barge was taken in tow and moved to its new destination.

During the towing, at the exception of a few deck hands, the barge was living in idle. In the gangways, some Americans with a stinking cigar in their mouth had installed games tables around which they spent long hours playing poker accompanied by large glasses of whiskey.

Because of this, a thick smoke cloud and a smell of cold tobacco floated on the ceiling of the cabins and decayed the atmosphere.

Twenty-four hours later, we were on site but due to the bad weather, the barge still remained in standby for several days. I used this period to spend a maximum time to study all the facilities and equipment I didn't know.

Everything was looked at:

The diving bell in which I spent a few hours studying the various gas circuits that were in so that I get able to identify them in case of problems and isolate them in the dark.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

The huge claw that was actually hanging at the surface and around which I shall have to move without any visibility.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

The chamber, in which I was going to live in the next few days.

I also spent a lot of hours with chamber operators who taught me in the art of making breathing mixtures. In short everything I saw, passionate me.

Then finally, on January 17 the weather calmed and for the first time in my career I went into saturation.

The three colleagues who accompanied me were Maurice, the one with which I was going to do team, Alain the Tahitian and a Canadian diver which I have unfortunately forgotten the name. Fourteen hours, start of the pressurization.

The chamber is compressed with air up to ten meters to bring the partial pressure of oxygen to 420 mb.

- Everything Ok guys? Yann asked.

- Yes everything is alright.

- OK, I send the helium.

Slowly, pure helium sets out through the chamber atmosphere. Very quickly, my voice changes and I'm starting to talk like Donald Duck.

Tens of minutes later, we have reached the living depth of sixty five-meters.

The supervisor informs us that the deck crew is ready to lower the jet and that Maurice and I can start to prepare ourselves for the dive.

As I have never be in a diving bell, the diving Supt decided that for safety reasons Maurice had to be the bellman and therefore it’s to him to make the bell checklist.

I decided however to watch him so I would know how to do it for the next dive. Once in the bell, my colleague tided up a few things and then informed the surface:

- Surface I'm ready for the checklist.

- Ok Maurice, we start with the communications.

- Bell communication

- Ok

- Diver helmet

- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 how do you read me?

- Five on five

- Bellman Mask

- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 how do you read me?

- Five on five

- Auto-generator

- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 how do you read me?

- Five on five

- Let’s skip to the electricity.

- Inner light?

- Ok

- Outdoor light?

- Ok

- Scrubber?

- Ok

- Heating?

- Ok

- It's good Maurice, one passes to the valves

- Inflation by umbilical?

- Closed, I do a test

- Arrival bellman?

- Open

- Umbilical arrival?

- Open

………And so on

- Alright Maurice, checklist complete, you can call your diver in the bell.

Excitedly I went in the bell and settle on the small seat while the bellman closes the lateral door. The surface decompresses the hub then a moment later we can hear that one of the divers is disconnecting the bell with great blows of a hedge hammer. Here it is, the bell moves to the end of its portico, rises a little, and then slowly starts to descend.

Through the porthole one can see that the night has already fallen.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

The passage through the splash zone is pretty hectic and the bell moves violently in all directions. Maurice tells me to hold on well.

Then very quickly the rodeo calms and the bell go down to the abyss.

Sixty five meters, the bottom door opens slightly under the effect of the pressure and a trickle of water fills the bottom of the bell.

Immediately, Maurice announces:

- Surface door open stop the descent.

Through the halo of light made by the external projectors I can now see the bottom of the sea where a lot of cods are swimming.

I dip my hand in water: Brrr! it’s cold. Fortunately, Maurice has already connect the hot water hose to my diving suit and so I will warm up a bit before I immerse.

The supervisor calls me:

- Ok Francis the jet is about five meters from the bottom.

- How is it going, not too nervous for this first?

- No problem I’m fine.

Here it is. I am now fully equipped and after a communication test with the surface, I do the OK sign to my colleague and let myself gently slide into the icy water.

Immediately I feel the pleasant warm water circulation in my suit. Super, I have the impression of being in a warm bath.

Slowly I go down on the bell counterweights and do a complete turn on myself to watch what is around me. It's dark and I can’t see anything beyond the beam of the projectors.

A little on the starboard side of the bell I can see the jet that dangles at a few meters over the bottom.

A call coming from the surface reminds me to order.

- Francis, are you ready?

- Yes surface , I’ve spot the jet.

- Okay, first thing to do is to search the pipe.

- In principle you should find it if you go at 3 O’clock.

- Understood surface.

I let myself fall on the bottom which is located some five metres below, and then displace myself in the said direction. I'm moving slowly on the sea floor. The more I go away from the bell the more it starts to get dark. But despite all the visibility remains good.

In the distance, I begin to see a dark mass. It must be the pipe. Actually, a few metres farther the 36-inch pipeline is there resting on the sandy bottom.

- Surface! That's it, I found it!

- Ok Francis, sits you on the pipe, I'll ask at the bellman to look of how far you’re out.

- Maurice, can you tell me how many meters the diver is out?

- More or less thirty meters.

- Thirty metres, thanks.

- Ok divers, we'll make a move of twenty meters to starboard with the barge.

- Maurice, you take care of the umbilical.

- Understood, you move the barge.

Slowly the barge winches start to turn on. Some give slack on the port cables while others pick up the slack on starboard. Slowly, the bell comes closer to me.

Here it is, I start to distinguish the claw.

- Surface!

- Yes Francis.

- Here it is I'm starting to see the Jet.

- Ok, we have nearly completed the move.

Some instant later, the supervisor Announces:

- Twenty meters, movement is finished.

- Can you tell me how far we are from the pipe?

I look a little upwards, and can now see this enormous mass of dozens of ton of steel swinging around in all directions at the discretion of the swell.

- The jet is about five to six meters on the port side of the pipe.

- Ok Francis, now it's up to you to play.

- You first bring the machine above the pipe.

- Ok well understood.

- You can still move the barge three meters to starboard.

- Let’s go for three meters.

At the end of two or three small additional displacement, the jet is finally over the pipeline. Still sitting on it, I take a few minutes to study its behaviour. It has a vertical movement of about two to three meters, while it oscillates laterally for a good meter. Result, I stress a little because with these random movements, I do not have much room for manoeuvre.

On the surface, the supervisor (probably pushed by the client) asks me to act.

- Yes, do not worry, it comes, I just do not want to crush the pipe.

Quick a last control to make sure that my umbilical runs well behind me and so doesn’t risk passing under the machine.

Ok let’s do it !

- Surface easy down on the jet until I say STOP

- Down to the stop.

The ramp with the injection nozzles are approaching dangerously from the pipe.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

- STOP the descent.

- It is stopped.

Because of the swell, the huge mass of steel dances now up and down to a few inches from the top of the tube.

- OK, be ready to drop the jet.

I'm waiting for a few seconds then finding the right moment I shout:


Immediately, the machine begins to descend quickly over the pipe until it’s stopping on the sea bed.

Moments later, the surface informs me that weight gauge indicates that the machine is standing. Phew !, I think that I haven’t broken anything.

The installation has generate a sand cloud but rapidly the small current sweeps the cloud away and I can now clearly see that the jet overlaps the pipeline. But because of the hardness of the soil, the two injection ramps are only buried to a few tens of centimetres.

- Surface!

- Yes Francis I listen.

- Good, the jet is standing correctly, but it should still come down for more than one meter until the sled touches the bottom.

- Well received, go and put yourself on the counterweight, we'll start the pump to let it go down.

- Maurice, pick up diver slack diver returns to the counterweight.

- Ok I do.

I'm now under the bell since two or three minutes, when all of a sudden a huge racket begins to be heard. These are the high pressure nozzles and pumps which are set in action. The acute wheezing becomes stronger and stronger, I feel as if I’m next to a jet plane that’s taking off.

The noise is so loud that all of a sudden I'm afraid that all explodes.

Around the claw a thick cloud of sand begins to reduce visibility. Then finally after a few minutes the noise decreases a little.

The supervisor calls me:

- Okay, Francis, we have ceased the jetting and pumping, and open the internal circuit.

- Can you go and look if the sleds are now resting properly on the bottom?

- Uh ! that’s all well and good but the jet is still running.

- Don’t be afraid it makes noise, but the pumps are shut down and you risk nothing.

- Ok, if you say so I’ll go.

On the bottom the visibility is nil. Fortunately the jet is only located a few metres from the bell and I find it easily.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

The big machine has effectively come down and her two skates are now on the bottom.

- Surface the jet is in position.

- Perfect Francis, you worked well, you can go back to the bell, diving is complete.

I returned to the diving bell quite happy to have succeeded my first deep dive and once in it I comment it proudly with my colleague.

I'm a Sat Diver or the story of my first offshore work

During the next two days, we could still perform some inspection dives. Then in the late afternoon Jacques came to the radio to inform us that a new storm was forecast and that the barge was lifting the anchors to go for shelter. Result, we had to be decompressed.

- What already! I said to my diving buddies.

- Well Yes, Alain tells me it's always like that in the North Sea during winter time, a few days work and then standby weather then continues by telling me that once he had spent a month at sea without making a single dive due to bad weather.

Our decompression lasted for nearly seventy hours.

As the barge was again in tow, we could feel that she was moving a lot. Maybe was it due to the pressure or because I got sea legs again, but I had not the slightest nausea.

Tuesday 21, the door of our recompression chamber opened in the early afternoon and I could again breathe the pure air of the North Sea.

The rest of the work took place as it had started by a long period of stand-by. Then at the end of the month the bad weather ceased and a new team could again enter in saturation.

For me the end of my first trip was close because my replacement was scheduled in the coming days. Finally, on 2 February, I did the opposite voyage and was back two days later within my small family and in the arms of my little Darling that had missed me so much.

Repost 0
6 mai 2015 3 06 /05 /mai /2015 16:28
Mon premier chantier offshore

Décembre 1974, cela faisait maintenant trois ans que je travaillais comme scaphandrier pour la petite entreprise de travaux sous-marins Anversoise (voir : Bougre d’assistant). Nous n’y étions que cinq plongeurs, patron inclus plus deux assistants, ce qui signifiait de nombreuses plongées au cours desquelles j’avais appris pas mal de choses.

A cette époque, il n’y avait que très peu d’entreprises spécialisées dans ce type d’activité et seulement deux ou trois d’entre elles avaient un staff de plongeurs salariés, la compagnie de Bruxelles où j’avais démarré ma carrière civile et celle où je travaillais maintenant.

Ces deux entreprises étaient surtout spécialisées dans les travaux de génie civil et la plupart des scaphandriers belges s’accommodaient très bien de ce type de travaux.

Pourtant, depuis deux à trois ans, la demande de plongeurs offshore ne cessait de croître et de nombreux plongeurs quittaient la boîte bruxelloise pour tenter l’aventure. Cela faisait sourire mon patron, car indirectement, cela nous ramenait les contrats que notre concurrent ne pouvait plus honorer faute de personnel.

Le mardi 25 décembre, jour de Noël, je reçus un coup de fil vers les trois heures de l’après-midi d’un gars qui se présentait comme étant le directeur d’une boite de recrutement qui recherchait des plongeurs - scaphandriers expérimentés pour des chantiers offshore, et qu’à ce titre, il désirait absolument me voir le jour même.

Aimablement, je lui rétorquai qu’aujourd’hui était un jour férié, mais il n’en avait cure et voulait me voir immédiatement. Résultat, une heure plus tard j’étais dans son bureau situé au neuvième étage d’un immeuble de l’avenue Louise.

Là, je tombai nez à nez avec René, un de mes collègues de travail d’Anvers. Quelques minutes plus tard la porte du bureau s’ouvrit et un gars d’une quarantaine d’année nous fit entrer. Il se présenta à nous comme étant Michel G. directeur de la société FLADAS.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Après quelques banalités d’usage, il entra d’emblée dans le vif du sujet, et nous expliqua qu’il avait lui-même été plongeur à la Comex, mais que très rapidement il s’était aperçu que le monde de la plongée offshore européenne manquait cruellement de plongeurs expérimentés sachant travailler sous eau dans des conditions difficiles. Et de ce fait il s’était mis en tête de débaucher un maximum de scaphandriers des entreprises de travaux publics belges et françaises, pour qui ces conditions de travail étaient monnaie courante.

Résultat dans sa quête d’ouvriers spécialisés, il était tombé sur nous par l’intermédiaire d’autres collègues de travail.

Au cours de notre entretien, il nous expliqua en long et en large en quoi consistait ce type d’activité. De mon côté, tout ce qu’il nous racontait sur le métier me passionnait car comme beaucoup de jeune plongeur, la plongée profonde me fascinait.

Par contre, ce qui me dérangeait un peu dans son descriptif, c’était la durée des chantiers qui comme l’avait dit Michel était de un mois en mer du Nord, et de deux mois dans les autres parties du monde.

Or comme j’étais (encore) jeune marié à l’époque, j’étais assez inquiet de laisser ma jeune et jolie petite femme seule aux mains de tous ces mâles à l’affût.

Voyant mon embarras, Michel pour me persuader, embraya immédiatement sur la question pognon et me demanda:

- Combien gagnes-tu pour l’instant ?

- Autant ! Lui répondis-je.

Il me regarda et me dit :

- Bon pour ton premier chantier je te propose autant de FF, puis une augmentation de 50 % répartis sur les trois chantiers suivants.

Oups ! Je ravalai ma salive car même pour un premier chantier cela faisait plus que tripler mon salaire actuel.

- En plus de cela, me dit-il, tu pourras encore y ajouter des primes de saturation plus quelques avantages fiscaux intéressants si tu passes plus de six mois par an à l’étranger.

Evidemment, tout cela est bien tentant lui dis-je, mais je ne peux pas m’engager sans en parler d’abord à la maison.

- Pas de problème, tu me rappelles dans deux heures, j’attends ici.

Une fois chez moi, la discussion fut très animée. Mon épouse savait que j’étais attiré par ce type de plongée, mais elle aussi avait peur que l’on m’envoie en Afrique où ailleurs pour deux mois et craignait de ne pas pouvoir supporter une aussi longue absence.

- Et un mois lui demandais-je ?

- Ca cela devrait pouvoir aller.

Dix minutes plus tard, j’avais à nouveau Michel au bout du fil.

- Bon lui dis-je, je veux bien partir pour toi, mais seulement pour des périodes d’un mois maximum.

- Parfait, je te ferai tourner en mer du Nord, puis aussitôt ajouta :

- Tu sais ce qu’il te reste à faire maintenant.

- Euh non, quoi ?

- Donner ta démission et te tenir prêt à partir dès le 5 janvier.

Hein ! Déjà, cela ne me laissait plus qu’une dizaine de jours pour me préparer psychologiquement et annoncer René et moi notre décision à notre patron.

Or, le lendemain soir nous avions justement notre repas de fin d’année où tout le personnel de l’entreprise se retrouvait avec plaisir comme tous les ans dans notre petit restaurant chinois. Ce soir-là, tout le monde était apparemment heureux de se retrouver pour faire la fête et l’ambiance était chaleureuse.

Seuls René et moi n’étions pas vraiment dans le coup. Evidemment, il y avait de quoi car nous avions décidé d’annoncer la nouvelle au cours de la soirée.

Le repas fut excellent, puis vint l’heure où notre boss commença son petit speech de remerciement pour la qualité des travaux que nous avions presté au cours de l’année. Puis voilà maintenant, qu’il oriente son discours sur l’avenir et se met à philosopher sur le dévouement de ses hommes à être toujours disponibles, et aux grandes choses que l’on pourra accomplir ensemble l’année prochaine.

Furtivement je regarde René. Ca y est, il est temps de lui dire.

Comme René est plus franc que moi, il intervient :

- Patron, j’ai quelque chose de pénible à t’annoncer.

Aïe ! La tête du boss change un peu.

- Oui quoi René ?

- Ben, j’ai une mauvaise nouvelle, je démissionne car je pars en offshore.

Merde, le patron doit s’asseoir. Grosse discussion entre mon collègue et lui pour tenter de le convaincre de rester, mais rien n’y fait, René campe sur sa décision.

Résultat, quelques minutes plus tard, il est résigné à perdre son meilleur plongeur, mais il ajoute aussitôt :

- Bon mon cher René, pas de problème c’est ton choix et je ne peux t’en empêcher, mais heureusement, il me reste Francis qui pourra maintenant prendre ta place. Moi, je ne savais plus où me mettre. Puis timidement je lui dis :

- Patron, moi aussi j’ai une mauvaise nouvelle, je pars avec René et moi aussi je te donne ma démission. C’en était trop, deux démissions coup sur coup, la fête était foutue.

Au cours des quelques jours suivant, j’en profitai pour faire quelques achats vestimentaires car on m’avait annoncé que la mer du nord en hiver ce n’était pas chaud et qu’il fallait se couvrir.

Samedi 5 janvier onze heures du matin, le téléphone sonne. A l’autre bout de la ligne c’est mon nouveau patron Michel.

- Salut Francis, je t’appelle pour t’annoncer que tu pars cet après-midi, je t’ai trouvé un job en mer du nord sur Jet barge 4, donc rendez-vous à quinze heures à l’aéroport.

Merde, cela ne me laisse plus que quatre heures à passer avec ma petite famille. Quatorze heures, comme Michelle mon épouse ne sait pas encore conduire, se sont mes parents qui passent me prendre pour me conduire à l’aéroport.

Le petit hall de celui-ci est bondé, mais très rapidement je repère Michel qui m’attend impatiemment.

- Salut ! Tiens voilà ton billet pour Aberdeen via Londres, vas vite enregistrer ton bagage au comptoir n° 3.

- Euh ! Mais c’est que j’ai deux grandes valises et un sac.

Michel me regarde ahuri :

- Quoi, qu’est-ce que tu as tout là-dedans ?

- Mais on m’avait dit que je devais bien m’équiper contre le froid.

- Allez ! Ouvre ça en vitesse, on va faire une sélection.

Résultat, en plein aéroport et sous les yeux angoissés de ma famille, mon boss s’afféra à bazarder tout ce qu’il jugea superflu de prendre avec moi. Une fois ce petit détail technique réglé, j’enregistrai en vitesse mon bagage et finalement fut prêt à passer le service de contrôle.

Jusqu’à présent, j’avais tellement été afféré par mon départ que je ne m’étais pas rendu compte de ce qui se passait. Mais tout d’un coup, voyant que le moment de la séparation était arrivé, une boule d’angoisse se fit sentir au fond de ma gorge.

Ca y est mes Amours, je dois vous dire au revoir. Pas facile tout cela, surtout pour mon gamin de quatre ans qui ne comprenait pas bien pourquoi son papa le quittait pour si longtemps.

Me voilà dans l’avion pour Londres. J’avais au cours de ma jeunesse déjà fait quelques baptêmes de l’air en petit avion de tourisme, mais n’avait encore jamais pris un gros avion et je dois dire que j’avais apprécié ce premier vol.

Arrivé au terminal de Londres, je suis un peu perdu. Ne connaissant pas du tout ce genre d’installation, je m’arrêtais à pratiquement tous les panneaux signalant des messages, afin de vérifier si l’un d’eux ne concerne pas le vol vers Aberdeen.

Voyant probablement que j’étais un peu paumé, une hôtesse s’approcha de moi et se proposa de m’aider. Ainsi, grâce à elle, je me retrouvai rapidement dans le terminal d’où devait partir mon prochain vol.

Vingt heures quinze, nouveau départ pour la ville Ecossaise où j’arrivai une heure trente plus tard. Pour la énième fois je relis la feuille de route que Michel m’avait passée : « A Aberdeen prendre un bus et allez au George Hôtel sur la Union Street. »

Prendre un bus d’accord, mais lequel parmi ceux se trouvant sur le parking ? Bof, il suffit de demander au chauffeur. Comme j’avais bien révisé mon Assimil au cours de ces derniers jours, je demandai fièrement à un premier chauffeur :

- Do you go center ?

Chouette, le gars semblait avoir compris car aussitôt il me répondit :

- No, yourrrrr arrrrrrrre wrrrrrrong, you etc etc etc.

Bref un ensemble de mots ne comprenant que des rrrrrr auxquels je ne pigeais rien. Encore une fois je lui reposai la même question avec pour résultat la même réponse incompréhensible. Bizarre pensais-je, j’ai pourtant appris l’anglais. A mon avis cela doit être un étranger. Malheureusement non, car apparemment tout le monde ici parlait cette même langue étrange. Voyant que je n’avais pas compris, le chauffeur me montra un autre bus en me disant :

- Take that bus.

Je suivis son conseil, et une heure plus tard j’étais à la réception de l’hôtel. Apparemment, la chambre avait été réservée car dès que je donnai mon nom, la réceptionniste me remit une clé en précisant que la chambre était au 3ième étage.

Arrivée à la porte, j’ouvris celle-ci, allumai la lumière et …..

- Oh excuse me sir.

Il y avait là un gars dans le lit qui se retourna en grognant. Aussi sec, je redescendis à la réception en disant à la dame qu’elle m’avait donnée une mauvaise chambre car celle-ci était occupée.

Eh bien non, la bonne femme m’expliqua tant bien que mal qu’il s’agissait d’un autre plongeur et que nous devions partager la chambre à deux. Résultat, retour dans la piaule, où je tente maintenant de délicatement ranger mes affaires afin de ne pas gêner mon nouveau collègue. Peine perdue, car mon ramdam lui fait ouvrir un œil, puis le second.

- Sorry.

- OK no problem!

- Hello, I’m Francis and I come from Brussels.

- Hi, I’m John and I’m from London.

Ouf, John parlait un anglais que je comprenais plus ou moins et je pus ainsi entreprendre une petite conversation pour lui expliquer ce que je venais faire ici. D’après ce que je pus comprendre, lui aussi venait d’arriver et s’était couché tôt car on devait venir le chercher tôt le lendemain. En effet, sur le coup des cinq heures du matin, j’entendis John partir en silence.

Moi, on m’avait dit à la réception que quelqu’un prendrait contact avec moi vers les dix heures. Effectivement dans la matinée, coup de fil d’un gars parlant français, c’est Yves. Il me signale que mon départ pour la barge n’est prévu que pour le lendemain et que dès lors je peux disposer de ma journée.

Résultat, j’entreprends de faire une ballade en ville.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Mais c’est dimanche, et le dimanche à Aberdeen tout est fermé, pas un chat dans les rues, une véritable ville morte. Et en plus il fait moche comme tout. Bordel, qu’est-ce que je fais ici.

J’ai un cafard pas possible en pensant à ceux que j’ai laissés derrière moi. Autant rentrer à l’hôtel, là au moins il fait chaud.

Dix-huit heures un nouveau gars arrive dans la piaule.

- Hello ! Lui dis-je pensant avoir à faire à un nouveau plongeur anglais.

En guise de réponse, je reçois un « bonjour » avec un fort accent marseillais. C’est Maurice, un plongeur français de la Comex qui m’apprend que lui aussi part sur JB4. Du coup mon moral va beaucoup mieux.

Le lendemain matin après un copieux breakfast, départ en taxi pour Peterhead, petit port situé à une cinquantaine de kilomètres au nord d’Aberdeen où un supply boat nous attend avec d’autres gars qui doivent partir bosser en mer.

Milieu de matinée, le supply appareille, puis à peine sorti de la rade, il se met rapidement à valdinguer dans tous les sens par une mer de force 7 à 8.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Moi, cela faisait maintenant huit ans que je n’avais plus mis les pieds sur un navire, mais très rapidement, je pouvais ressentir les symptômes de ce que je craignais : Le mal de mer. Nous étions à peine sortis depuis moins d’une demi-heure que bardaf, mon petit déjeuner y passait. Malgré le mauvais temps et le fait qu’il était pratiquement impossible de se tenir debout, le cuistot du bord s’afférait maintenant à préparer le repas de midi pour l’équipage et les quelques gars qui restaient dans la cambuse.

Pour moi, pas question d’avaler quoi que ce soit, car rien que l’odeur de la bouffe me fit à nouveau courir vers les toilettes.

A cause du mauvais temps, le tonton avait interdit l’accès à l’extérieur pour éviter de passer par-dessus bord, résultat pas question d’aller s’aérer dehors. La seule chose à faire était donc d’aller se caler au mieux dans la bannette.

Les heures suivantes, étaient parmi les plus pénibles de ma vie. La tempête avait encore forci et il fallait se caler très fortement pour ne pas être éjecté du lit.

Moi je n’arrêtais pas de boire et de vomir, je voulais mourir tellement j’étais mal. Je me disais que si c’était cela l’offshore, ils pouvaient aller se faire foutre car je ne passerais pas un mois ainsi à être malade comme un chien.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Plus le temps passait et plus je me faisais mon cinéma en me disant que je repartirais illico à terre. Finalement, au bout d’un voyage interminable de trente-six heures durant lesquels le bateau avait ravitaillé diverses plateformes pétrolières, Jet Barge 4 était en vue et le marin de quart vint nous informer qu’il fallait se préparer à débarquer.

Moi comme j’étais à l’agonie, j’informai Maurice que j’avais décidé de rester à bord pour rentrer en Belgique et ne plus jamais de ma vie mettre les pieds sur un rafiot. Maurice répliqua en souriant que j’aurais tort de faire cela, car sur la barge cela bougerait nettement moins.

- Je m’en fous, je ne bouge plus de mon pieu.

Une dizaine de minute plus tard, le supply était à couple de la barge. Pour faciliter le transbordement du personnel, il s’était amarré sous le vent ce qui avait réduit quelques peu le roulis et le tangage. Résultat, je me décidai malgré tout à me lever afin d’aller voir à quoi ressemblait cette installation sur laquelle j’aurais dû monter.

Ce que je voyais là sous mes yeux, était un énorme ponton maintenu en place par toute une série de gros câbles qui partaient vers le fond. Elle était illuminée de partout et un boucan pas possible sortait de ces entrailles.

Mais, comme me l’avait annoncé mon collègue, cette barge n’avait pas l’air de bouger des masses, peut – être qu’après tout je ferais bien de monter à bord et aussitôt je retournai dans la cabine pour chercher mes affaires.

En revenant sur la plage arrière, je constatai que le transbordement avait commencé. Le passage entre le bateau et la barge, se faisait à l’aide d’un panier dans le centre duquel il fallait jeter ses valises, puis tant bien que mal s’agripper au filet latéral et s’y maintenir jusqu’au moment où le grutier de la barge estimait pouvoir remonter le panier sans trop de risques.

C’était maintenant à mon tour de m’essayer à ce rodéo.

Mon premier chantier offshore

A cause des mouvements non synchronisés du bateau et de la barge, ce n’était pas facile de se mettre en position. Tantôt je me cassais la gueule dans le panier, puis quelques instants plus tard, je repartais en arrière. Un véritable parcours du combattant. Puis sans m’y attendre, le panier décolla du pont et je me retrouvai rapidement à une dizaine de mètres de hauteur. Une fois posé sur le pont de la barge, je pus immédiatement constater qu’effectivement elle bougeait beaucoup moins que ce foutu rafiot et je me sentais immédiatement mieux.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Mon moral lui aussi revint à la vitesse de l’éclair lorsque j’aperçus mon collègue Luc que j’avais déjà croisé sur un chantier en Belgique. Après m’avoir salué, il me dit que j’avais une tête de déterré et un teint qui ressemblait assez bien à la couleur verte de la barge.

Pas étonnant lui dis-je avec le voyage d’enfer que je venais de subir. Puis après quelques banalités d’usage, il saisit ma valise et nous conduisit Maurice et moi auprès du stratif qui devait enregistrer notre arrivée.

Une fois ces formalités terminées, il nous mena à notre piaule afin de poser nos bagages, nous montra les divers endroits de la barge qu’il était important de repérer immédiatement, puis finalement nous présenta aux quelques plongeurs qui faisaient le quart de nuit.

Moi, cela faisait maintenant plusieurs dizaines d’heures que je n’avais plus rien avalé et subitement la faim se fit sentir.

Luc m’invita à passer au mess où pour la première fois de ma vie je fis connaissance avec de délicieux pancakes au sirop d’érable. Pendant que je mangeais, mon copain m’expliqua qu’à cause de la tempête, la barge était en stand-by météo depuis plusieurs jours et les plongeurs s’occupaient comme ils l’entendaient.

Bien entendu, très rapidement j’orientais la conversation sur la vie à bord et le genre de travail qui m’y attendait.

- Bof, ce n’est pas la joie en ce moment car il y a quelques jours nous avons eu un mort et tu es là pour le remplacer.

Bigre, cela commence bien mon chantier.

- En fait me dit-il pour continuer, la barge sur laquelle on travaille est ce qu’on appelle une barge ensouilleuse de pipe.

- Il faut savoir, qu’ici en mer du Nord de même que dans beaucoup d’autres endroits du monde, rien ne peut dépasser du fond de la mer et donc en clair cela veut dire que tous les pipelines qui sont actuellement posés devront être enterrés avant d’entrer en production et c’est là que nous entrons en jeu.

- Comme tu peux l’imaginer, on ne creuse pas ce genre de tranchée profonde à la lance Galeazzi. - Ici sur la barge on utilise une énorme machine, que tu verras demain, qui est tirée par-dessus le pipe.

- Cet engin est équipé à l’avant d’une multitude de lances à haute pression qui désagrège le terrain au fur à mesure de l’avancement, tandis qu’à l’arrière de la machine, il y a un énorme système de pompage qui envoie les boues hors de la tranchée.

- Il y a quelques jours, nous sommes arrivés à la fin d’un tronçon sur lequel il y avait une vanne de 8 pouces et il était prévu que les amerloques arrêtent le tirage du jet à cinq mètres de cette vanne. - Comme à l’accoutumer, on a commencé l’inspection de la tranchée et du pipe.

- C’était John notre plongeur anglais qui était dans l’eau et tout se passait bien jusqu’au moment où il nous a signalé qu’il passait de l’autre côté du tube.

- Là tout d’un coup, on a entendu un horrible cri à la radio et puis plus rien, plus aucun bruit de respiration, le silence total.

- Aussitôt, le chef de poste a envoyé le bellman à son secours.

- La visibilité était encore extrêmement réduite à cause des turbulences crées par le jet, et il a dû suivre le narghilé pour arriver sur lui.

- Une fois sur place, il a tenté de prendre son collègue dans les bras pour le ramener à la tourelle, mais il était collé sur le pipe et il ne parvenait pas à le dégager.

- Comme le temps passait, l’eau a commencée à s’éclaircir et finalement, le bellman a pu voir que le bras du plongeur était coincé à l’intérieur du tube.

- C’est là qu’on a compris que le jet avait été tiré trop loin et ainsi arraché la petite vanne et la partie du pipeline sur lequel elle était soudée.

- Comme le tuyau était en air, cela a créer une forte dépression au niveau de l’ouverture et c’est en passant par-dessus que le pauvre a eu son bras aspiré dedans.

- Je ne te dis pas comme on a chié pour le sortir de là.

- Comme le fond n’était qu’à trente-cinq mètres, on a fait l’intervention depuis la surface car le bellman était trop choqué pour continuer.

- Il nous a fallu pas moins de huit heures pour le dégager et pour cela on a dû mettre le pipe en eau pour obtenir un équilibrage des pressions.

- Quand on l’a finalement dégagé, il ne restait plus que l’os sur le bras, tout le reste depuis l’épaule jusqu’à la main avait été sucé dans le tube.

- Ce n’était pas beau à voir, donc tu comprends pourquoi on n’a pas trop le moral en ce moment. Evidemment, il y avait de quoi.

- Et maintenant, quelle va être la suite des opérations lui demandais-je ?

- Là, pour l’instant on attend une accalmie car on a encore une plongée à faire sur le tube, puis on lève les ancres pour aller sur un autre site où il faudra ensouiller un nouveau tronçon de 36 pouces.

Finalement, après avoir encore discuté une dizaine de minutes avec mon collègue, je pris congé de lui et décidai d’aller pioncer quelques heures. Malgré la fatigue du voyage, je ne parvins pas à dormir beaucoup. C’était probablement dû en partie au stress de cette première mission, mais aussi à cause du bruit infernal provoqué par toute la machinerie de la barge que l’on pouvait entendre jusqu’à l’intérieur des cabines.

Résultat, sur le coup des neuf heures, je me relevai et après m’être habillé chaudement, sortit sur le pont pour aller me rendre compte sur quoi j’avais atterri.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Dehors, le jour c’était levé. Il faisait un froid de canard et le vent soufflait encore très fortement. Après avoir déambulé un peu partout pour découvrir les divers endroits de cet énorme ponton flottant, je me dirigeai ensuite vers l’arrière de la barge où se trouvait le poste de commandement et l’installation de plongée. Luc y était encore et s’occupait de régler le détendeur d’un casque de plongée.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Un autre plongeur mettait une couche de peinture au plafond du local et deux autres avaient le nez plongé sur la playmate d’une revue playboy.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Ah salut, bien dormi ? - Bof pas trop, je trouve qu’y pas mal de bruit.

- T’inquiètes pas, tu t’habitueras rapidement.

- Viens, je vais te présenter au chef de chantier il est justement dans le local des caissons-masters.

Je le suivis, en chemin, nous passons dans une salle où se trouve un énorme caisson de décompression orange. Ça c’est notre 2500 me dit-il, c’est là-dedans qu’on fait nos saturations, on te montrera l’installation plus tard.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Au bout de la salle, un petit escalier montait jusqu’au control room dans lequel se trouvait Yann le caisson master et Jacques le chef de chantier qui ensemble faisait le point sur l’état des gaz de plongée.

- Salut, Francis, c’est toi le nouveau ?

Au cours de notre entretien, il se renseigna un peu sur mon expérience de plongeur, puis à la fin il ajouta :

- Cet après-midi, on va tenter une plongée pour élinguer le pipe, ça te dis de la faire ?

Bien entendu, j’étais là pour plonger et donc acceptais avec enthousiasme.

- Bien, on programmera ça vers quatorze heure le chef d’équipe te dira ce qu’il faudra faire.

- En attendant tu peux peut-être déjà te choisir un vêtement de plongée étanche.

Au changement de quart, je fis la connaissance des autres membres de l’équipe de plongée du quart de jour. Puis le chef d’équipe dont j’ai oublié le nom m’amena sur le tribord arrière de la barge et commença à me briefer sur ma future plongée.

- Tu vois, ici on a une main courante qui est encore amarrée autour du pipe à hauteur de la vanne qui a été arrachée.

- Donc, tout à l’heure tu vas la suivre.

- Une fois sur le fond, tu la détaches et tu pars sur ta gauche.

- Fais gaffe en partant que ton narghilé soit bien derrière toi sinon tu partirais dans la mauvaise direction.

- A environ vingt mètres de distance tu vas arriver au bout du pipe sur lequel il y a une tête de traction.

- Là, tu attaches la main courante sur l’anneau.

- Ensuite on te descendra à coulisser sur la main courante, un câble avec une manille trois pièces. - Une fois que tu l’auras récupéré, tu fais donner assez de mou pour ne pas être gêné par la houle, puis tu enlèves l’axe de la manille et tu la places par-dessus l’anneau.

- Après, tu remets l’axe de la manille en place, tu serres bien l’écrou et tu n’oublies surtout pas de mettre la sécurité en place.

- Et surtout fais gaffe à ne pas perdre l’écrou.

- Une fois que ça sera fait, tu devras passer sur la vanne d’équilibrage qui se trouve de l’autre côté et la fermer.

Pendant qu’il me décrivait ce que j’aurais à faire, je pensais qu’il me prenait pour un débile qui n’avait jamais rien élingué de sa vie, mais très rapidement au cours de mes divers autres chantiers offshores, j’allais me rendre compte qu’il en était toujours ainsi et que contrairement à la plongée TP, le plongeur ne pouvait ici prendre que très peu d’initiative.

- D’autre part, continua-t-il, comme tu peux le remarquer, il y a encore une trop forte houle pour faire les paliers dans l’eau donc tu feras une décompression de surface.

- Euh ! C’est quoi ça demandais-je intrigué ?

- Cela veut dire que tu remonteras directement en surface où on te déséquipera en vitesse avant de te mettre dans le caisson où tu seras recomprimé à douze mètres tout en respirant de l’oxygène pur.

- Attention, une fois que tu sortiras de l’eau, tu ne devras pas traîner car tu ne disposes que de trois minutes pour retourner à la pression du palier.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Peu de temps après, l’heure de l’intervention a sonné. Maurice va être mon plongeur secours. Consciencieusement, j’enfile mon vêtement Unisuit, puis pour la première fois de ma vie je mets un masque facial sur la tête.

Mon premier chantier offshore

C’est un KMB 9 de couleur orange doté de communications avec la surface. Cela aussi me changeait de mes plongées dans les ports et canaux où jusqu’à présent à l’exception de travaux pointus, je n’avais utilisé pour communiquer que des signaux de traction envoyée sur le narghilé. Tout était prêt, aux écouteurs j’entendis le chef de poste me dire que je pouvais y aller.

Je m’avançai au bord de la barge, puis attendis le sommet d’une vague pour sauter. Une fois dans l’eau, j’agrippai la main courante et immédiatement commençai à me déhaler vers le fond. Le facial était équipé d’un bourre-pif pour faciliter l’équilibrage des oreilles mais je n’en avais pas besoin car depuis toujours j’avais appris à passer les oreilles en déglutissant.

La seule chose à laquelle je devais penser durant la descente était d’envoyer régulièrement de l’air dans mon vêtement étanche pour l’empêcher de squeezer. En moins de deux minutes j’étais quelques trente-cinq mètres plus bas.

Sur le fond, la visibilité était bonne et je pouvais voir que la main courante était bien là où le chef l’avait dit. Le reste de la plongée se déroula sans aucune difficulté, conformément aux instructions reçues.

Bref une chouette première petite plongée.

Résultat, vingt minutes après mon départ, je pouvais annoncer :

- Surface, travail terminé.

En surface, le chef parut étonné car il me demanda de confirmer.

- Tu es sûr d’avoir bien mis tout en place ?

- Affirmatif, tout est en place et serré et la vanne est fermée.

- Bon dans ce cas tu peux larguer la main courante et remonter doucement jusqu’en surface, encore une fois, fais attention de ne pas tourner autour de l’élingue.

Lentement, je commence ma remontée. A partir de douze mètres, les effets de la houle se font fortement ressentir. Le câble sur lequel je me tire n’arrête pas de se tendre et se détendre et lorsque je regarde maintenant vers la surface, je peux voir le bas de l’échelle de plongée dans le remous des vagues.

Heureusement que je n’ai pas à faire de palier dans l’eau, sinon j’aurais à nouveau pu avoir la nausée. J’arrive au bas de l’échelle qui se trouve tantôt à six mètres, puis l’instant d’après à trois mètres. Je m'y accroche fermement pour enlever mes palmes mais ce n’est vraiment pas facile. Voilà, c’est fait. Aussitôt je l’emprunte pour remonter sur le pont.

A peine arrivé, trois collègues se jettent sur moi pour enlever mon harnachement de plongée puis sans tarder me dirigent vers le sas du caisson. Rapidement, je m’y installe, saisit le masque à oxygène et commence à respirer goulûment ce gaz pur qui doit m’empêcher de coincer.

La porte du sas se ferme, tandis que par l’interphone le caisson master m’informe qu’il va entamer la mise en pression. Aussitôt, l’air se met à fuser dans le sas et en moins d’une minute, la porte de la chambre principale s’ouvre par équi-pression. Ouf, mon intervalle de surface à durer moins de trois minutes. Je suis dans la procédure prescrite par la table de décompression et peux maintenant passer dans la chambre pour m’allonger sur la bannette tout en continuant à respirer de l’O2.

J’en ai pour dix petites minutes. Pas mal du tout ce mode de décompression pensais-je qui permet de passer sa décompression bien au sec et à l’abri de la houle. Ce que j’ignorais à l’époque, c’est que cette technique, n’est pas sans risque pour le plongeur car durant l’intervalle de surface les tissus sont en état de sursaturation et le risque d’un accident de décompression est réel.

On a d’ailleurs coutume de dire que lors d’une procédure de décompression de surface on provoque un accident de décompression que l’on traite immédiatement. Cette pratique a également de graves conséquences sur la santé des plongeurs qui au cours de leur carrière ont dû intensément subir ce type de décompression et bon nombre d’entre eux sont aujourd’hui fortement handicapés voire invalides.

Heureusement, la Comex à l’inverse d’autres entreprises moins regardantes à la santé des plongeurs était conscient de ces risques et ne pratiquait la décompression de surface que dans des circonstances exceptionnelles comme celle d’aujourd’hui.

Apparemment, et je ne sais pas pourquoi, j’avais semble-t-il satisfait le chef de chantier par ma prestation car dès ma sortie de caisson, il m’informa que je ferais partie de la prochaine saturation qui devrait avoir lieu dans quelques jours si le temps se calmait.

Aussitôt après, il demanda au chef d’équipe de bien vouloir au cours des prochaines heures, me renseigner sur l’installation de plongée profonde et me briefer sur les diverses procédures de travail en cours pour la pose du jet et les inspections.

Super, mon premier chantier, et je peux déjà aller en ’’sat ’’.

D’autres plongeurs n’ont pas cette chance et bon nombre d’entre eux devront parfois attendre bien longtemps avant de pouvoir vivre cette expérience.

En mer, deux remorqueurs avaient commencé à remonter les ancres.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Cette manœuvre dura une bonne douzaine d’heures au cours desquelles on pouvait entendre le bruit lancinant des douze treuils qui rentraient les kilomètres de câble. Une fois la dernière ancre à bord, la barge fut prise en remorque et partit pour sa nouvelle destination.

Durant le remorquage, à l’exception de quelques hommes de pont, la barge vivait au ralenti. Dans les coursives, les américains cigares puant aux becs, avaient installés des tables de jeux autour desquelles ils passaient de longues heures à jouer au poker accompagnés de grandes rasades de whisky.A cause de cela, une épaisse fumée ainsi qu’une odeur de tabac froid flottait au plafond et pourrissait l’atmosphère des cabines.

Vingt-quatre heures plus tard, nous étions sur place mais à cause du mauvais temps, la barge resta encore en stand-by météo durant plusieurs jours. Moi je mis à profit cette période pour passer un maximum de temps à étudier tous ces équipements que je ne connaissais pas.

Tout y passait, la tourelle dans laquelle je passai quelques heures à étudier les divers circuits de gaz qui s’y trouvaient de manière à pouvoir en cas de problème les repérer et les isoler dans le noir complet.

Mon premier chantier offshore

L’énorme ensouilleuse qui était maintenant en surface et autour de laquelle j’aurai à circuler sans visibilité aucune.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Le caisson vie, dans lequel j’allais vivre dans les prochains jours. Je passai également pas mal d’heures avec les caissons masters qui m’enseignaient à l’art de faire les mélanges respiratoires. Bref tout ce que je voyais, me passionnait.

Puis finalement, le temps s’est calmé et le 17 janvier, j’entrai pour la première fois en saturation. Les trois collègues qui m’accompagnaient étaient Maurice, celui avec qui j’allais faire équipe, Alain le Tahitien et un plongeur Canadien dont j’ai malheureusement oublié le prénom.

Quatorze heures, début de la pressurisation, le caisson est comprimé à l’air jusqu’à dix mètres pour amener la pression partielle de l’oxygène à 420 mb.

- Ok les gars tout va bien ? Nous demandât Yann.

- Pas de problème.

- J’envoie l’hélium.

Lentement, l’hélium pur se diffuse maintenant dans l’ensemble de plongée. Très rapidement, ma voix change et je commence à parler comme Donald Duck. Quelques dizaines de minutes plus tard, nous atteignons le niveau vie de soixante-cinq mètres. Jacques le chef de chantier, nous informe qu’en surface ils vont commencer à descendre le jet et que Maurice et moi pouvons commencer à nous préparer.

Comme je n’avais encore jamais plongé en tourelle, la surface décide que pour des raisons de sécurité Maurice ferait le bellman et c’est donc à lui d’aller faire la check-list de la tourelle. Je décidai toutefois de l’observer ainsi je saurais comment faire pour la prochaine plongée.

Après être passé dans la tourelle, mon collègue range quelques affaires puis informe la surface :

- Surface je suis prêt pour la check-list.

- Ok Maurice, on commence par les communications.

- Communication tourelle ?

- Ok

- Casque plongeur ?

- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 est-ce que tu me reçois ?

- Cinq sur cinq

- Masque bellman ?

- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 est-ce que tu me reçois ?

- Cinq sur cinq

- Auto-générateur ?

- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 est-ce que tu me reçois ?

- Cinq sur cinq

- On passe à l’électricité.

- Lumière intérieure ?

- Ok

- Lumière extérieure ?

- Ok

- Scrubber ?

- Ok

- Chauffage ?

- Ok

- C’est bon Maurice, on passe aux vannes

- Gonflage par ombilical ?

- Fermée, je fais un essai

- Arrivée bellman ?

- Ouverte

- Arrivée ombilical ?

- Ouverte

- Prise pression plongeur ?

- Ouverte

- Prise pression bellman ?

- Ouverte

- Alimentation tableau bellman ?

- Ouverte

- Alimentation tableau plongeur ?

- Ouverte

- Gonflage biberon secours ?

- Fermé

- Arrivée HP ?

- Ouverte

- Gonflage HP ?

- Fermé, je fais un essai

- Prise pression intérieure ?

- Ouverte

- Analyse ?

- Ouverte

- Sortie eau chaude ?

- Ouverte

- Entrée eau chaude ?

- Ouverte

- Alimentation eau chaude plongeur et bellman ?

- Fermée

- Echappement secours ?

- Ouverte

- Equilibrage porte latérale ?

- Fermé

- Col de cygne haut ?

- Ouvert

- Col de cygne bas ?

- Fermé

- Sortie ballon oxygène ?

- Fermée

- Echappement régulé ?

- Fermé

- Pression extérieure ?

- Ouverte

- Arrivée oxygène ?

- Fermée

- Echappement 1 pouce ?

- Fermé

- Pilotage oxygène ?

- Ouvert

- Pointeau de sécurité oxygène ?

- Fermé

- C’est bien Maurice, on va passer à la respiration

- Tu disposes les vannes du tableau plongeur, tu tares à 10 bars et fais un essai respiration.

- Ok, ça marche

- Tu disposes les vannes du tableau bellman, tu tares à 10 bars et fais un essai de respiration

- Ok, ça marche

- Ok Maurice, check-list terminée, tu peux dire au plongeur de passer dans la tourelle.

Tout excité, je m’installe sur le petit strapontin pendant que le bellman ferme la porte latérale. En surface, on décomprime le hub, puis l’instant d’après un des plongeurs de surface déconnecte la tourelle du caisson à grands coups de masse. Ca y est, la tourelle se déplace jusqu’au bout de son portique, se soulève un peu, puis lentement commence à descendre. Par les hublots, on peut voir que la nuit est déjà tombée.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Le passage de la surface de l’eau est assez mouvementé et la tourelle bouge dans tous les sens. Maurice me dit de bien me tenir. Puis très rapidement le rodéo se calme et la tourelle descend en douceur vers les abîmes.

Soixante-cinq mètres, la porte inférieure s’entrouvre légèrement sous l’effet de la pression et un filet d’eau rempli le fond de la tourelle. Aussitôt, Maurice annonce porte ouverte et fait stopper la descente.

Je peux maintenant voir le fond de la mer dans le halo des projecteurs tourelle autour desquelles nage une multitude de morues.

Délicatement, je trempe la main dans l’eau. Brrr, qu’est-ce qu’elle est froide. Heureusement, Maurice va maintenant brancher le circuit d’eau chaude sur mon vêtement de plongée et je pourrai me réchauffer un peu avant de m’immerger. Le chef de poste m’appelle :

- Ok Francis le jet est à environ cinq mètres du fond.

- Ca va, pas trop nerveux pour cette première ?

- Non pas de problème.

Ca y est, je suis maintenant complètement équipé et après un essai de communication avec la surface, je fais le signe OK à mon collègue et me laisse doucement glisser dans l’eau glacée. Aussitôt, je ressens l’agréable circulation d’eau chaude dans mon vêtement.

Super, j’ai l’impression d’être dans un bain chaud. Lentement, je me laisse descendre sur les contrepoids de la tourelle et fais un tour complet sur moi-même pour regarder ce qu’il y a autour de moi. Il fait noir et je ne distingue rien au-delà du faisceau des projecteurs.

Un petit peu à tribord de la tourelle, je peux voir le jet qui se balance à quelques mètres du fond. De la surface, un appel me rappelle à l’ordre.

- Francis, tu es prêt ?

- Ok surface, j’ai repéré le jet.

- Bon, première chose à faire, tu pars à la recherche tu pipe.

- En principe tu devrais le trouver en partant sur 3h00.

- Bien compris surface.

Je me laisse couler sur le fond qui se trouve quelques cinq mètres plus bas, puis pars vers 3h00. Je me déplace lentement sur le fond, plus je m’éloigne de la tourelle, plus il commence à faire noir. Mais malgré tout la visibilité reste bonne. Au loin, je commence à apercevoir une masse sombre. Ça doit être le pipe. Effectivement, quelques mètres plus loin le pipeline de 36 pouces est là posé sur le fond de sable.

- Surface, ça y est, je l’ai trouvé !

- Ok Francis, assied toi dessus, je vais demander au bellman de combien tu es sorti.

- Maurice, est-ce que tu peux me dire de combien de mètres le plongeur est sorti ?

- Plus ou moins trente mètres.

- Trente mètres, merci.

- Ok plongeurs, on va faire un déplacement de barge de vingt mètres sur tribord.

- Maurice, tu surveilles le narghilé.

- Bien compris, on bouge la barge.

Lentement, les divers treuils de la barge se mettent en marche. Certains donnent du mou sur les câbles bâbord tandis que d’autres reprennent sur tribord. Doucement, je vois la tourelle se rapprocher de moi. Ca y est, je commence aussi à distinguer le Jet.

- Surface !

- Oui Francis.

- Ca y est je commence à voir le Jet.

- Ok, on a bientôt terminé le déplacement.

Quelque instant plus tard, le chef de poste annonce :

- Vingt mètres, mouvement terminé.

- Plongeur tu peux me dire à combien on est tu pipe.

Je regarde un peu vers le haut, et peux maintenant voir cette énorme masse d’acier de plusieurs dizaines de tonne se balancer dans tous les sens au gré de la houle.

- Le jet est à environ cinq à six mètres à bâbord du pipe.

- Ok Francis, maintenant c’est à toi de jouer.

- Tu nous amènes d’abord la machine au-dessus du pipe.

- Ok bien compris.

- Tu peux encore faire bouger la barge de trois mètres sur tribord.

- C’est parti pour trois mètres.

Au bout de deux ou trois petits déplacements supplémentaires, le jet est finalement à la verticale du pipeline. Toujours assis sur celui-ci, je prends maintenant deux à trois minutes pour en étudier son comportement. Celui-ci a un ballant vertical d’environ deux à trois mètres, en même temps qu’il oscille latéralement d’un bon mètre.

Résultat, je stresse un peu car à cause de ces mouvements aléatoires, je n’ai pas beaucoup de marge de manœuvre. En surface, le chef de poste probablement houspiller par le chef de barge me demande d’agir.

- Oui oui, ne t’inquiètes pas, ça va venir, je n’ai juste pas envie de défoncer le pipe. Une dernière fois, je m’assure que mon narghilé passe bien derrière moi et ne risque ainsi pas de passer sous la machine. Allez j’y vais.

- Surface descendre le jet doucement jusqu’à ce que je dise STOP

- On descend jusqu’au stop.

Les rampes d’injection de la bête se rapprochent dangereusement du pipe.

Mon premier chantier offshore

- STOP la descente.

- C’est stoppé.

A cause de la houle, l’énorme masse d’acier danse maintenant jusqu’à quelques centimètres du dessus du tube.

- OK, tenez-vous prêt à laisser tomber le jet.

J’attends encore quelques secondes, puis, jugeant le bon moment je gueule :


Aussitôt, l’engin se met à descendre rapidement par-dessus son pipe jusqu’à ce qu’il butte dans le sable en même temps qu’un gros nuage de poussière se dégage du fond. Quelques instant d’après, la surface m’informe que la tension du câble de retenue indique que la machine est posé. Ouf, je pense que je n’ai rien cassé.

Rapidement, le petit courant qui règne sur le fond balaie le nuage de sable, et je peux maintenant distinctement voir qu’effectivement le jet chevauche le pipeline. Mais à cause de la dureté du terrain, les deux rampes de d’injection ne se sont enfoncées que de quelques dizaines de centimètres.

- Surface !

- Oui j’écoute Francis.

- Bon, le jet est bien posé, mais il faudrait qu’il descende encore un mètre cinquante avant que les patins ne touchent le fond.

- Bien reçu, vas te mettre sur les contrepoids de la tourelle, on va mettre les pompes en route pour le faire descendre.

- Maurice, reprends le mou du narghilé, le plongeur revient sur les contrepoids.

- Ok je reprends.

Je suis maintenant à l’abri depuis deux à trois minutes, lorsque tout d’un coup un boucan énorme commence à se faire entendre. Ce sont les lances à hautes pressions et les pompes qui se mettent en marche. Le sifflement aigu devient de plus en plus fort, j’ai l’impression de me trouver à côté d’un avion à réaction qui décolle. Le bruit est tellement fort que tout d’un coup j’ai peur que cela n’explose.

Autour de l’ensouilleuse, un épais nuage de sable commence à réduire la visibilité. A bout de quelques minutes le vacarme diminue un peu. Le chef m’appelle :

- Bon, Francis, on a arrêté le jetting et le pompage, et ouvert le circuit interne.

- Est-ce que tu peux aller voir si les patins sont bien posés.

- Euh, je veux bien, mais le jet tourne encore.

- N’ai pas peur cela fait du bruit, mais les pompes sont coupées et tu ne risques rien.

Sur le fond, la visibilité est nulle. Heureusement le jet ne se trouve qu’à quelques mètres de la tourelle et je le retrouve facilement.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Effectivement, la machine est descendue et les deux patins reposent maintenant bien sur le fond. - Surface le jet est bien en place.

- Parfait Francis, bien travaillé tu peux rentrer à la tourelle, plongée terminée.

C’est donc tout heureux d’avoir réussi ma première plongée profonde, que je retourne dans la tourelle où j’allais fièrement pouvoir en discuter avec mon collègue.

Mon premier chantier offshore

Pendant les deux journées suivantes, nous avons encore pu effectuer quelques plongées d’inspection. Puis en fin d’après-midi Jacques vint nous dire qu’une nouvelle tempête était annoncée et que la barge devait relever les ancres pour aller se mettre à l’abri.

Résultat, il fallait nous décomprimer.

- Quoi déjà ! Dis-je à mes copains plongeurs.

- Eh oui, c’est toujours comme ça en hiver en mer du Nord, quelques jours de boulot et puis standby météo me répond Alain qui continue en me racontant qu’une fois il avait passé tout un mois en mer sans faire une seule plongée à cause du mauvais temps.

Notre décompression dura près de septante heures. Comme la barge était à nouveau en remorque, on pouvait sentir qu’elle roulait beaucoup. Peut-être était-ce à cause de la pression ou bien alors au fait que j’attrapais à nouveau le pied marin, mais je n’en souffrais pas le moins du monde. Au cours de notre décompression, notre plongeur canadien avait apparemment beaucoup de mal à ne pas pouvoir griller sa petite clope. Résultat, pour compenser son manque de nicotine il gardait au coin des lèvres une cigarette (éteinte) qui au fil des heures n’arrêtait pas de diminuer de longueur à force d’être mâchonnée.

Le mardi 21, la porte de notre caisson s’ouvrit en début d’après-midi et je pouvais ainsi à nouveau respirer l’air pur de la mer du Nord.

Le restant du chantier se déroula comme il avait commencé, par une longue période de standby météo. Puis vers la fin du mois le temps devint à nouveau plus calme et une nouvelle équipe pouvait entrer en saturation.

Pour moi la fin du séjour était proche car ma relève était prévue dans les prochains jours. Finalement, le 2 février, je refis le chemin inverse et me retrouvai deux jours plus tard au sein de ma petite famille, et dans les bras de ma petite chérie qui m’avait tant manquée.

Papy One

Repost 0
6 mai 2015 3 06 /05 /mai /2015 13:35
BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

In November 1990, an oil company based in Cameroon decided to remove two old wellheads and a signaling spar from a dry up field and for that called to the company I was working for. In those years the most commonly used method for this type of dismantling was explosives.

Of course, these kinds of products could not be used just like that by whoever showed up because placed in inexperienced hands; this tool could become extremely dangerous.

At that time, explosives engineers were not common within the company and I made part of the few supervisors who got all the necessary licenses required for the implementation of these stuffs. And so, this is why the CX operation services decided to send me to Douala to perform this job. The Night flight from Paris to Douala took place a few days later without problems and on arrival it was nice to find back this little warm and moist air which contrasted with the winter weather I had left a few hours earlier.

Going through the customs formalities was much more easier than in other African countries and once past , I was picked up by my colleague Henri BWABE a local commercial diver, a super nice and competent guy who a few years earlier had survived a helicopter crash where he did despite the dramatic situation managed to save several other workers from drowning.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

As I had traveled all night, he took me first to the hotel so that I could take three or four hours of rest before starting the preparation of project.

Sharp at noon he was there again. We took a little lunch together at the hotel and at 0:2 p.m. we left to meet the 2 client representatives. They explained in detail the nature of the work and asked me to prepare a working procedure for the following days.

After that, we left for the local agency where a small desk and a telephone were placed at my disposal. The first part of my job was to get in touch with the local supplier of explosives, to see what kinds of products he had to sell.

In the past, I already had the opportunity to make dismantling works of submerged metal structures and therefore used a two-component liquid explosive with very high performance, but here I doubted that this explosive mixture was available.

I was right, here the choice of the products was fairly limited and I was therefore forced to use the product invented by a certain Mr. Alfred Nobel in 1867 that’s to say dynamite. Having received the technical characteristics of the selected explosive I began to calculate the quantity of product I would need to complete my severing work.

Following the informations I had received from our client, I knew that the two wellheads I had to severe were composed by a 30’’ outer casing plus a 10’’ and 7’’ internal casing with the inner spaces filled with concrete.

Thus knowing this plus a few other parameters, I decided that the best way the blow those tubes up would be to use an internal bulk charge.

At contrary, the signaling spar was made by a single tube and in this case I considered that it would be much easier to implement an external cutting charge around it.

To allow me to fill the purchase order I still had to calculate how much explosive I would use. This was made with the help of a formula that gave as results 55 kg of dynamite for each wellhead and 20 kg of that same stuff for the external charge.

It must be known that the purchase and implementation of explosives are in most of countries subject to a very strict regulation and of course it was the same here in Cameroon.

The requested working procedure had been written in a few hours and thus the only thing I had to do now was to wait to all the necessary clearance papers.

The swimming pool and the bar of the Ibis hotel was very welcoming, but staying all day there, very little for me, I preferred by far spend my days with my new buddy Henri, who was delighted to show me his town and the surrounding area.

A few days later, after having received all necessary permissions, I did let come my dive team that would be composed by José, Yves, André, three French divers assisted by my friend Henri and Jean, another Cameroonian diver.

November 30, we embark aboard the Crystal Fish a supply boat that was going to be our working support for this project. The day was devoted to mobilize our diving equipment and around 02:00 p.m. everything was secured and the only thing we were still expecting was the explosives.

They arrived under high military escort on the shot of the 04:00 p.m. and after a few mandatory signatures, were immediately transferred to the storage container where they were immediately locked for safekeeping.

05:00 p.m., we were now ready to leave the port of Douala and order was given to unberth the vessel.

The last mooring line was at the point to be dropped when all of a sudden a stowaway appeared on the afterdeck under the guise of a cute black and yellow snake that immediately went for hide under the diving container.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

Seeing this, Henri our African colleague immediately gave order to the crew to close all the passageway doors to prevent the snake from entering into the boat where he would have been very hard to locate.

On our side, we tried very carefully to dislodge the monster from its location using a pike pole. Not easy to reach him, the snake was well hidden. Then after several minutes the frightened animal suddenly decided to move from under the container to one of the diving umbilical’s where he curled himself in.

For its part, the Captain began to get impatient because time began to count if we wouldn’t want to miss the tide and so the only thing left to do was to use drastic measures. The firefighters lance was implemented and finally thanks to the strong water flow the dangerous reptile was thrown overboard.

Phew, the last mooring line could now be dropped and our supply boat sail for the open sea.

The voyage was relaxing and finally after a dozen hours of night navigation, we arrived on the oilfield. Just the time to take a little breakfast and we could now start to deploy the working material.

As the aft deck of our boat was too short to hoist the blasted elements entirely on board it had been decided to tow them slowly on the bottom one by one to a deep water zone.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

Therefore the first day was devoted to strap all the casings from the wellhead together so as to not lose pieces during the towing.

While a part of the crew was busy with these securing works, José and I could now start the assembly of the first bulk charge.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

05:00 p.m., everything was ready. The wellhead was secured, the supply boat towing line installed and my first charge was locked in the container until tomorrow morning. I had just to make a radio call to the field manager to inform him of the situation and confirm that I had planned the firing at 08:00 a.m.

Next morning: standing up at dawn for everyone. The night had been very quiet and the sea was as flat as a mirror.

My first job was to go to the radio room and inform about the weather conditions. Perfect, no risk of thunderstorm was forecast for the next hours which meant that I could start the operation.

I immediately made another contact with the field manager to confirm the shot and also remind him that we were going to have a radio silence starting at 07:00 a.m. This let me then one hour to install my charge and connect my blasting circuit without risking a premature detonation due to radio frequency energy hazards.

07:30 a.m., everything was ready, the 55 kg dynamite were hanging correctly inside the central tubing about 3 m under the mud, and what was just left to do was to connect my two electric detonators to the detonating cord.

Yet, something began to intrigue me. When I started my loading job, the sea with the exception of our boat was absolutely deserted, and now half an hour later it was infested by little fishing boats. These had probably been informed by the bush tam-tam that a miraculous fishing party would take place in the morning.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

What could I do, wait until they go, certainly not because now that they were here, for sure they would not go away. Result, I finished my electrical connection, and then climbed down the structure to jump into the zodiac in which José and Henri were surveying me.

Slowly, the zodiac set out towards the supply boat while I carefully unrolled the firing line.

During the preparation of this operation, I had calculated that the detonation of my explosive charge would produce an underwater shock wave that would be dangerous to a distance of approximately 570 meters and clearly a large number of pirogues were inside this danger zone. Besides this, as they had nothing else to do than wait, many fishermen were taking a nap lying in their boat with often their hands and feet dipping in water which was not safe at all.

Once on board, I asked the Captain to take the megaphone and inform them of the risks. No reaction, a new message was made in English and Pidgin, nothing, nada, niet, these bastards don't deign to move.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

Of course for me it was impossible to shoot in these conditions. I therefore decided to break the radio silence to inform the field manager of the situation and told him that to disperse all these boats, we needed the assistance of the Cameroonian Navy and some of the speedboats that were working on the field.

The dissuasion task force arrived on site some twenty minutes later, but despite the navy injunctions, very few fishermen moved.

The rest of the pirogues were finally chased from the restricted zone with the help of the speedboats firefighting water guns.

And it was so that between all that confusion I had to choose the best moment to shoot the bulk charge.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

As expected, the explosion made a low acoustic wave immediately followed by a huge water column about 20 meters height.

Then barely a few seconds later, there was the fantastic rush. All the canoes set off and surged towards the area where already dozens of fresh fish began to surface.

For us, the first part of the mission was completed. The wellhead was now lying down on the bottom waiting to be trailed to the drop zone.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

The severing of the second and third structure went as well as the first one except that this time we had taken care to require the attendance of the deterrent force well in time to avoid any surprises.

BOUM-BOUM in Cameroun

A few days later, I was back in Douala with Yves and André who were due to return to France the same evening, while I had to stay ashore a few days more to prepare a new project.

It was the eve of the weekend and so I told myself that I would probably be quiet for two days and thus prepared myself to spend a pleasant evening.

Bad luck, because early in the evening, I received a phone call from the local office informing me that my colleague José who had remained at sea with another team of divers requested my urgent assistance.

Indeed, Désiré, a Cameroonian diver of his team had made a serious decompression accident. Immediately, with the assistance of the local agency manager we tried to persuade the oilfield manager, to charter a helicopter to bring me the barge.

He was a bit reluctant because night flights were not allowed on the field but finally after a few minutes of discussion and given the seriousness of the situation, he nodded and gave us the green light.

Immediately, we made a new phone call to the heliport to inform them of the situation, but new problem.

As night flights were not planned, there was no pilot on stand-by and to make things even worse, most of them were busy partying and had already abused the bottle which was not very reassuring to flight.

Result, and probably to play it safe, it were two half sober pilot’s that we saw arrive at the heliport and who a bit latter invited us to take place in the helicopter.

Indeed, although Yves and André had to fly in the evening, I had asked them to accompany me to the barge because having heard about the gravity of the accident; I feared that the therapy might be long with quite a lot to do. In addition, Yves Langouet was also a qualified life support technician which could given the situation be very helpful.

Once installed, the pilots began the checklist, and at 09.00 p.m. precise the chopper took off.

Half an hour later the Bos 300 was in sight and shortly after the helicopter landed safely.

On the barge, José had in accordance with the encountered symptoms, begun a therapeutic CX 30 table. Although he had only made a short dive at 23 meters our poor Cameroonian diver had indeed developed a neurological problem right out of the water and sank into unconsciousness shortly after.

No chance for him either, the client had sent the dive team on a site located away from the barge where the DDC was installed and therefore our unfortunate victim had lost nearly an hour before he could be recompress at 30 meters.

Désiré regained consciousness in the recompression chamber but unfortunately had paraplegia of the lower limbs.

Once there, we relieved our colleague so that he could relax a bit from this stressfully situation he was on since a few hours.

The therapeutic treatment lasted a few more hours during which the present divers took turns alternately to assist the unfortunate diver.

At the end of the treatment, Désiré was again able to stand upright, but with a lot of difficulty. Meanwhile, on my side I had already been in radio contact on several occasions with our doctor in Marseille to keep him abreast of the situation. In the light of what I told him, he advised me to consolidate the treatment by a series of additional recompressions spread over the week, but as there was no therapeutic chamber in Douala, I was sentenced to spend the week on the barge assisted by my colleague José.

The various recompressions still improved slightly the general condition of our African colleague, but unfortunately he still had a urinary retention problem and loss of balance was still frequent. After the recompression treament, Désiré was transferred to a hospital in Douala where he stayed for another few weeks.

As for my colleague Jose and I our job in Cameroun was now nearly terminate and to thank us we were both invited to a dining party by our agency Manager before returning to home.

A few days later, time had come to return to Europe.

Our buddy Henri accompanied us to the airport to say us good-bye.

It was the last time that I saw him because he unfortunately disappeared while diving in scuba a few years later.

Conclusion: When your hour is there, it's there.

Papy One

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29 avril 2015 3 29 /04 /avril /2015 13:09
Divers, to avoid getting divorced, beware of ACID FLIES!

During the 1990s, my work led me to spend many months in Nigeria where as I already mentioned elsewhere the living conditions were not always very easy.

Moreover, in this country, despite the fact that we were at sea, we regularly had the visit of various types of insects. Among these, one could find a superbly colored flying insect which once posed, had the particularity to ride their small wings with the hind legs and then introduce them in a kind of backpack.

These charming beetles blown away by a wind coming from land arrived by whole swarm and succeeded without problems to install themselves anywhere into the barge, but with a preference for our cabins.

The first time I saw them I was not hesitant to crush them with my thumb because I did not want that these beetles finished in my sheets.

Divers, to avoid getting divorced, beware of ACID FLIES!

This was off course a very bad idea because very quickly a fairly bright burn was felt followed by degeneration of the skin.

And this is how I learned to take care of what my Nigerian friends called the ACID FLY or more commonly called in English the Nairobi fly.

Very quickly over the following days, I learned that one of the only ways to avoid contact with their corrosive venom was to gently blow them off rather to chase them by a flick.

Easier said than done and despite this advice it happened to crush the beast on the skin. Fortunately, we had at that time in our brilliant diver’s community one diver commonly nicknamed “Jean-Louis the offshore Rika Zaraï” who knew good number of old wives cures.

He had considered the problem during some time, and so one morning he announced us that he had found a cure for these painful itching.

- Since we are dealing with an acid, well let us neutralize it by a base.

Elementary my dear Watson and where can we find a basis? In SOAP off course.

Believe me or not, but the trick worked and the burning sensation was quickly soothed.

So for me since then, I had taken the habit to put a small piece of SOAP in the pocket of my overall, which helped me more than once except this damn day of June 92.

That day I arrived at the end of my 6 week stay onboard of my small platform and was already looking forward to go on leave the next day.

In the water, Philippe one of my expat divers also due to leave at the same time as me, was busy to dig out a length of a 4” pipeline so that he could cut it and allow us to recover the rusted the riser.

To do his work, he used a pressure water lance that allowed him to disaggregate the ground lying above the pipe.

He was occupied from about 70 minutes, when all of a sudden, I heard a great “Hah” on the radio. Immediately, I asked Philippe what was happening.

While moaning in pain, he told me that he had just cut his knee with one or the other crap lying on the bottom.

Immediately, I made stop the water lance and asked him if he needed the standby diver to help him to come up.

He told me not and began its ascent while the tender picked up his umbilical.

Fortunately for him, he had no decompression stops to do and so could come back immediately to the surface. Escalating the ladder was a bit difficult and once on deck, we could effectively see that his neoprene was entailed with a large tear at the left knee level.

The wound appeared to be deep but it was not possible to see it properly because it was completely encrusted with the mud in which the diver had worked.

Result, an immediate passage under the shower so that I could clean all this as much as possible. Yeks! The injury was really deep; a cut of at least 5 cm in length departed the skin from the bone of the patella.

Divers, to avoid getting divorced, beware of ACID FLIES!

Despite the pain, Philippe showed lots of courage while I raised the flap of skin to wash out the remains of mud with the water jet.

During my first aid work I realized immediately that his injury was too important to be treated on board, and therefore asked the barge captain to call the basis of Escravos to send us a chopper as quickly as possible.

Once his wound cleaned and bandaged our injured diver was transferred on the helideck and half an hour later he was en route to the base where the doctor took him in charge.

In the planning of the day's work, I had planned to remove the old riser Philippe was working on but because of the incident, I was now missing a diver.

No problem I thought I'll go and will cut the pipe myself.

As time was pressing a little bit, I quickly picked up my swimsuit that was drying on the railing and put it on together with my neoprene diving suit.

Then while my mates began to equip myself, I suddenly felt that something began to irritate my penis. I understood immediately what was happening.

- Quick, Quick, dress me out I screamed thrashing around like a fool.

Once completely stripped off, I could see what I feared. A crushed acid fly laid down in my slip.

- My SOAP, where is my SOAP?

Immediately I made a sprint to my cabin and gently rubbed the SOAP on my poor dick. As usual the burning sensation disappeared fairly quickly, but the acid did have the time to do his work and already a beautiful reddish spot made its appearance.

My God I thought I hope that he will not fall !

As the damage was done and I could somehow do nothing more to it for the moment, I decided to go back to work and finish the cutting of 4 inches pipe.

The next morning, small peek at the damage. Not nice to look at it, but anyway when you got to go you got to go.

My replacement arrived in the morning and after a quick passage of the instructions, I went up in the helicopter which brought me back to the base.

Divers, to avoid getting divorced, beware of ACID FLIES!

There, I found the poor Philippe who apparently had had a very bad night.

Indeed, after its landing, he had been supported by an African doctor who, according to his statements, had not been tender with him.

Then, in the afternoon departure for Lagos where we arrived an hour later after a nice flight over the Bush.

Once arrived at national airport, I took Philippe’s arm over my shoulder to assist him as best I could because he was really struggling to move and when entering the hall told him:

Divers, to avoid getting divorced, beware of ACID FLIES!

- OK my friend, let’s go for the usual troubles.

But strangely enough we were barely entered into the terminal that an official saw us and came to our meeting.

Immediately, while felling very sorry of what has happened to my colleague, he proposed to look for a wheelchair.

- Thank you Sir I said while thinking that it was one of the few times that one was friendly with us in this country.

And then, to our surprise, the same thing occurred elsewhere. At each stage of the formalities, the officer made us pass before everyone else. Not the least tail to do, nor any dollar to give.

Everyone was 'SORRY' for the hapless diver that I was pushing and seemed SORRY that he had wounded on the Nigerian soil.

- EH! Philippe, have you seen how we pass easily I said, next time we’ll do the same.

An hour later in the boarding hall, I said goodbye to my colleague and left him to the good care of the Air France staff as for me I was leaving for Brussels and my flight had been announced.

In the cabin, oh nice surprise, look who is there, it’s Viviane my favorite hostess.

I had already met her on other flights, and she had some sympathy for me since the night where I don’t exactly remember the circumstances I had told her that she had the most beautiful eyes of the Sabena.

Since then whenever we saw, she arranged to pass me in the business class after takeoff and then came to me for little chat when most passengers were sleeping.

Pity that I was married, because I would willingly have succumbed to her charm.

7:00: arrival at Brussels.

I begin again to think about my little problem.

How will I inform my dear wife that we would practice abstinence for a few days?

Could I claim to have headache? Certainly not because this excuse was exclusively reserved to the weaker sex.

The more I approached home the more I became uncomfortable.

At home, my little darling was waiting for me on the doorstep.

- Hello my little Darling, you had a good trip, you are not too tired etc.

Then a little later came the fateful moment where any normal couple is going to a more intimate conversation, and it was now that I had to tell her the disease that was engulfing my body.

- Honey, I have a little problem.

- Ah which one?

- THAT! I replied by showing her my poor wounded sex.

Immediately she shouted:

- what is this! where you have dragged?

- But nowhere honey, I assure you. It is an acid fly that stung me yesterday.

- ACID FLY! ACID FLY! Bullshit. She said and it was the start of a dispute.

Of course, I tried to convince her of my good faith, but nothing helped, and the day was wasted. That evening I went to my doctor and explained him my disappointments.

He was laughing but agreed to write a little note for my wife explaining her the nature and the cause of my problem .

Phew, the household scene was over.

A few days later, everything was back in order and love reigned again on our couple.

Conclusion: To avoid household scenes, beware beasts biting.

Papy One

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